Skip to main content
Internet Archive's 25th Anniversary Logo

Full text of "misquoting-muhammad-pbuh"

See other formats


The Challenge and Choices 
of Interpreting 
the Prophet's Legacy 



A Oneworld Book 

First published in North America, Great Britain and Australia by 
Oneworld Publications 2014 

Copyright © Jonathan A.C. Brown 2014 

The moral right of Jonathan A.C. Brown to be identified as the 
Author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the 
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 

All rights reserved 
Copyright under Berne Convention 
A CIP record for this title is available from the British Library 

ISBN 978-1-78074-420-9 
eBook ISBN 978-1-78074-421-6 

Typeset by Tetragon, London 
Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY 

Oneworld Publications 
10 Bloomsbury Street 
London WC1B 3SR 

;~ ;' ; • £ \ : ■ ^ date vrtfli *e latest books, 
; special offers, and exdusiveeofterit ftwa. j 
Qneworfd with our monthly newsletter 

•- • ; T -.: :t7 1 V ■ Sgn up orrour website -UHii'-^'W. 








A world full of God 1 

Taking Islamic scripture and its interpreters seriously 5 


The word of God, the teachings of His Prophet and the mind of man 1 7 

Obey God and obey His Messenger I 8 

The beginnings of the Islamic interpretive tradition 20 

Abu Hanifa and the Partisans of Reason 24 

Malik and the authority of custom 28 

The power of reason : the Greek legacy and Islamic theology 3 1 

Shafi'i and the beginnings of Sunni Islam 35 

The collection and criticism ofHadiths 39 

Putting reason in its place in Sunni theology and law 4 1 

The great convergence of Sunni Islam 46 

Legal theory an d its discontents 52 

Sufism and inspiration from God 57 

The iconoclasts and Islamic revival 62 

Twilight of an era 67 


A crisis of confidence 70 

Canons and reading scripture with charity 72 

The turning over of an era 78 

Reading scripture so it 's true 79 

The Islamic science of epistemology and interpreta tion (Usui al-Fiqh ) 83 

The language of God and the rhetoric of His Prophet 89 

Hie Qur 'an: valid for all times and places 9 1 

Hadiths and interpreting the life of the Prophet 94 

Changing times and the reasons behind scriptural law 96 

The interaction of the Qur'an and Hadiths in time 97 

Into the weeds: the case of raising one's hands inprayer 103 

The summer of the liberal age \ 09 


Upstarts at the end of time 1 14 

The treason of interpretation \ xg 

Heresy acceptable: ruptures in canonical communities 1 18 

Slay the unbelievers wherever you find them: 121 

jihad and (re)interpreting scripture 
Women cannot lead; historicizing scripture versus God's inscrutable law 130 

Sexwith little girls: interpreting scripture amid changing norms 141 

The ulama, the state and Shariah authenticity without scripture 148 

The court must not be political - 1 57 

morality and truth in a ruptured world 


The paradox of interpretive control 161 

The rule of interpretation in the conflict 168 

between Sunni and Shiite Islam 

Tradition as governor, scripture as subject 175 

Killing one's children: tradition betraying scripture 179 

Reconsidering the penalty for apostasy: tradition redeeming scripture 1 86 

Women lea ding prayer: should scripture trump tradition} 189 

The 'Qur'an Only' movement 200 

No escaping tradition 204 

The price of reformation 207 

The guide of tradition: a necessary but thankless job 214 


The truth, what's that? 21 8 

Noble Lies and profound truths 220 

The ulama as guardians 223 

Appealing to the flesh : using unreliable Hadiths in Sunni Islam 229 
A familiar habit: assisting truth in Western scripture and historiography 233 
Seventy-two virgins: pragmatic truth and the heavenly reward of martyrs 238 

The cost of Noble Lying 247 

Muslim objections to the No ble Lie 250 
Genre versus book: reviving an old approach to authenticating Hadiths 256 

The dangers of Noble Lying for Muslims today 260 

Pragmatic truth and the beauty of Noble Lying i 26 3 


The Qur'an and domestic violence 268 

Who decides what God means? 272 

Courts have the final word 280 

Saying 'no' to the text and the hermeneutics of suspicion 286 



Ratings of the Hadith by Muslim critics 294 

Examination of individual narrations 294 

My evaluation of the Hadith 296 

Citations for Hadith of a Father Killing His Child 296 


Ratings by Hadith critics 298 

My evaluation of the Hadith of Riba and Incest 299 

Citations for the Hadith 300 


Overall rating 304 

Citations for the Hadith of the Seventy-Two Virgins 305 

NOTES 307 




List of Illustrations 

Figure 1: Hie Red Fort in Delhi 

Figure 2: The Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo 

Figure 3: Visitors to the shrine of Ahmad Badawi in Egypt 

Figure 4: Celebrating the Prophet's birthday in Delhi 

Figure 5: Tawflq Sidqi, Egyptian reformer 

Figure 6: Tomb of Bukhari in Samarqand 

Figure 7: Muhemmet Zahit Kevseri 

Figure 8: Interior of the Fatih Mosque, Istanbul 

Figure 9: The area included in the 'Peninsula of the Arabs' 

Figure 10: The chief ideologue of the Jama'a Islamiyya in Egypt 

Figure 1 1 : A young Muhammad Ghazali 

Figure 12: An older Muhammad Ghazali leads prayer 

Figure 13: Shaykh Ali Gomaa 

Figure 14: Yasir Burhami as Egypt's 'most dangerous man' 
Figure 15: Thejenderami Pondok in Malaysia 
Figure 16: Genealogy of knowledge for thejenderami school 
Figure 17: Genealogy of knowledge for the Ba'alawi Sufis 
Figure 18: Sayyid Naqib al-Attas 

Figure 19: The city of Hajrayn in the Hadramawt Valley Yemen 
Figure 20: Chart for the Hadith of a Parent Killing their Child 

For my beloved wife Laila, 
who inspires me every day 

Islam in the Twenty-First Century 
Series Editor: Omid Safi 


Inside the Gender Jihad, Amina Wadud 
Sexual Ethics in Islam, Kecia Ali 
Progressive Muslims, Ed. Omid Safi 

'In every object there is inexhaustible 
meaning; the eye sees in it what the eye brings 
means of seeing.' 


The French Revolution 


The Prophet Muhammad remains indispensable. The great debates 
of modern Islam - debates that, as this book shows, are great 
human debates - continue to be fought through the legacy of 
the Prophet, in his name, because of the Prophet, and in spite of him. 

He is always present among Muslims. They continue to praise their 
Prophet and recall his virtues in sermons, devotional songs, and books 
galore. Today, as in centuries past, those who fear, are ignorant of, or hate 
Islam have zeroed in on the Prophet as the manifestation of their phobias, 
blasting him in books and YouTube clips. And so the Prophet's persona 
and legacy serve as vehicles for both the highest aspirations of Muslims 
and the most vicious vitriol toward them. 

Salafis, Sufis, modernists, reformists, Wahhabis: whichever Muslim 
group, by whatever name one calls them, and in all their conceivable per- 
mutations, portray themselves as bearing the mantle of the Prophet. The 
Salafis claim to be the most authentic bearers of his authenticated words 
and deeds. The Sufis claim to be striving not just for the actions but also 
for the inner experience of the Prophet. Modernists talk about Ijtihad, or 
reinterpreting Islam according to what the Prophet would do and teach 
today. In short, they all claim to speak in Muhammad's name, quoting, 
misquoting, and contesting the legacy of the Prophet. 

It is most appropriate that this book looks at the great questions of 
interpreting what Islam has meant and should mean through the lens of 
Muhammad. Perhaps until very recently, no Muslim had ever read the 
Qur'an with pure, naive eyes. Muslims had always read the Qur'an through 
the person and legacy of the Prophet, whether embodied in oral or written 
traditions, whether in inspired visions or through scholastic commentaries 


and commentaries on commentaries. It is the contested legacies of the 
Prophet that have been the prime commentaries on the Divine text. >, 

In this book, Professor Jonathan Brown walks the reader through some 
of the more contentious modern debates in Islam today, such as whether 
women can lead communal prayers; what happens to Muslims who leave 
Islam; and the role of violence in the modern state. Readers will be sur- 
prised at what they find, sometimes pleasantly and sometimes not. It is 
not to be expected that all readers will agree with Brown's conclusions. Yet 
one has to admire the rigorous and methodical way in which he analyzes 
the textual evidence for the various positions held on these issues. 

Misquoting Muhammad comes at an opportune time. The author has 
quickly established himself as the foremost scholar of the Hadith (prophetic 
traditions), combining the most rigorous aspects of the Western academic 
study of Islam with the best of classical Islamic scholarship. In this sense, 
his work recalls the best of biblical scholarship by exponents such as Bart 
Ehrman. Reading this book will be rewarding in many and different ways 
for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. 

As a professor myself, and one reluctantly moving up in years, I cannot 
help but appreciate that Brown's book is also an important step in the 
career of an extraordinary scholar, one who is ready to bring the fruits of 
his formidable scholarship to a wider audience. Both the scholarly com- 
munity and the general reading public are richer for his contribution. 

Omid Safi 


The title and the idea for this book was proposed by a crafty, 
teddy-bear-like friend of mine, who suggested writing a coun- 
terpart to Bart Ehrman's best-sellingMisquotingJesus. Though I 
still have not read the book, I have benefited greatly from Ehrman's other 
writings and could imagine what the book argued. I told my friend that 
I did not feel comfortable writing an 'unveiling Islamic origins' book, 
so he proposed framing the project more as 'contesting Muhammad.' 
This made much more sense, and thus the subtitle (for me, the real 
tide) of the book emerged: the challenge and choices of interpreting 
the Prophet's legacy. 

The contents of this book took shape starting in 2007, during my first 
year as a professor. At the time I was engrossed in the subject of forgery and 
looking at forgery in the Islamic tradition in a comparative light. Though 
this research ultimately made its way into chapter six of the book, the cen- 
tral themes of the volume originated not in my research but in my teaching 
and public lectures. It became clear to me that by far the most pressing 
questions befuddling both Muslim and non- Muslim audiences were how 
we should understand such-and-such a controversial Qur'anic verse, or 
such-and-such a provocative Hadith. During the question-and-answer 
time at talks I gave, I saw again and again the disillusioning clash between 
scripture, and modernity acted out before me by individuals wondering 
how they should understand Islam today and what their relationship to 
the classical heritage of Islam should be. This book is not my attempt to 
give people the answers to these questions. Rather, it is my effort to lay 
out for the reader what some of the possible answers are and what their 
consequences might be. 


I sit writing this in a bed and breakfast in Johannesburg, South Africa, 
Peter Tosh's 'Downpressor Man' playing on the music-video channel on- 
a small TV. This city is a panoply of diversity. In the malls, people of all 
races and dress window-shop and wait for tables. Women in full face-veils 
and men with long beards and turbans stroll by without a passing glance 
from others. Back in the US, in the wake of the tragic Boston Marathon 
bombings, the media are still frenzied over distinguishing good, moderate 
Muslims from evil, extremist ones. No one of consequence ever acknowl- 
edges that 'good' and 'evil' in the American public square are too often 
not moral qualities or commitments to principle (a principled view might 
be, for example, 'The good person respects human life and protects the 
innocent at all costs; the evil kills and causes suffering ruthlessly'). Rather, 
they are tribal qualities. 'Good' corresponds to 'works to kill America's 
enemies' (American Muslims who joined the US military to fight in Iraq 
are thus good), and 'evil' means 'works to kill Americans or their allies 
or both' (Iraqi Muslims trying to defend their loved ones from random, 
dismembering explosions were evil). As for 'moderate' and 'extreme,' they 
map onto 'congruent with mainstream American culture' (Muslims who 
drink or don't cover their hair are thus moderate) versus 'clashes with 
mainstream American culture.' 

I love coming to South Africa because it reveals so starkly how transient 
and fickle even our most fervent and supposedly absolute beliefs can be. 
Less than a quarter- century ago America's political establishment and its 
obsequious media considered Nelson Mandela to be a terrorist (he officially 
ceased to be for the US in 2008). Now perhaps no man in the world is more 
respected.* Many Americans and Western Europeans proudly trumpet the 
diversity of cosmopolises like London and New York without realizing 
that cosmopolitanism does not mean people of different skin colors all 
sitting around over wine at a bistro table complaining about organized 
religion. It means people who hold profoundly different, even mutually 
exclusive, beliefs and cultural norms functioning in a shared space based 
on toleration of disagreement. 

As I ponder what this book I've written is about, I realize that it is as 
much as anything an expression of my desire to transcend the tribal and 
of my frustration at those who pass off cultural chauvinism and narrow- 
mindedness as liberalism, who use 'common sense' as a proxy for forcing 
one culture onto another on the pretext of imposing 'universal values;' 
* In the time since this was written in May 2013, Mandela passed away. 


who scoff at subservience to backward traditions when they see it in others 
but are blind to it in themselves; and who refuse to look at the cultural 
systems of others as - at least initially - equals that deserve to be judged 
by more than whether they drink heer, wear jeans, date or support some 
political agenda. 

Johannesburg, South Africa 


A number of friends and teachers assisted me in completing this 
book, but only I am to blame for its failings. Some read all 
or parts of it, and some lent expertise. Aunt Kate Patterson, 
Omar Anchassi, Rodrigo Adem, Matthew Anderson, Ovamir Anjum, 
Joe Bradford, Garrett Davidson, Robert Gleave, Matthew Ingalls, Tarek 
Al-Jawhary, Abdul Rahman Mustafa and Amine Tais suffered through 
readings and offered excellent suggestions and corrections. Jonathan 
Lyons in particular rendered me great service as a perceptive editor. Nuri 
Friedlander, Sher Ali Tareen and Maheen Zaman responded kindly to 
bizarre queries. Mohammed Fadel inspired me and upbraided me when 
necessary with his always animated discussion. Thomas Williams and my 
colleagues Jonathan Ray and Emma Gannage helped me with citations. 
Clark Lombardi has been a great friend and interlocutor, providing an elat- 
ing elixir of legal expertise and outrageous humor. Abdul-Aleem Somers 
allowed me to use his massive library in Cape Town. My friends Asad Naqvi 
and Brendan Kerr, along with my sisters, have helped keep me sane. Sister 
Lucinda even hosted me in Kuala Lumpur. My brother-in-law Ben Ward 
came up with a surprisingly helpful list of suggested readings. I must extend 
my sincere gratitude to Umar Ryad for sharing his photo of Muhammad 
Tawfiq Sidqi with me, and Sherif Abdel Kouddous and his family for pro- 
viding me with rare pictures of Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali, rahimahu 
Allah. I'm grateful to the Cosmos Club ofWashington, DC for the use ofthe 
Writers Room and the library. Of course, I thank Omid San and Oneworld 
Publications for pushing me to write this book to begin with. 

I remain a drop in the ocean of my great teachers, whom I will not name 
here because I do not want them tarnished by any opinions I express in 


the book. I owe great gratitude to my father, Jonathan C. Brown, and his 
wife Ayse for pushing me to write this book when it was lingering in the- 
authorial limbo of the 'forthcoming.' They have never once turned me 
away when I needed help. 

About my wife, Laila, I could say so much, but here I'll restrict myself 
to expressing my fully realized gratitude for her putting up with my long 
nights awake downstairs typing and thumbing through books, or clacking 
away on my laptop on the floor of our bedroom because I wanted to be near 
her. She has done so much to inspire me to crawl out of the classics into the 
cacophony of the modern world. She bore all my travels with remarkable 
patience (often right beside me). Our son Mazen I must thankfor waiting 
an extra week to be born so that I could finish chapter five, and for being 
such a joy ever since. He has even volunteered an unsolicited finger or toe 
in typing. I am also indebted to my in-laws, Dr. Sami and Nahla, for the 
constant stream of information they provided about the unfolding events 
of the Arab Spring. 

Over all my writings and thoughts hovers the memory of my late 
mother, Dr. Ellen Brown. This is the book she always wanted me to write. 
In the three years since she died, I have come to appreciate neglected facets 
of her personality: her everyday creativity, her patience, her integrity and 
her commitment to defending the autonomy of individuals regardless of 
who they were. She taught me to understand the perspectives of others, 
which is, in truth, no small accomplishment. Many cities of men she saw 
and knew their minds. With her passing, night fell and the roads of the 
world grew dark. But light and color return in the curiosity and smiles 
of children, in the gratitude for the treasures we have received and in 
the loving appreciation for what remains. I thank God for the blessings I 
have enjoyed in my life and hope that this 'dog on the doorstep' can be a 
useful servant of God. 

Notes on dates, transliteration, 
abbreviations and citations 

I have used a minimum of transliteration in order to make this book as 
accessible as possible. In the body of the text, I have used the following 
transliterations for Arabic words. The ' character in the middle of a 
word represents a simple glottal stop, like the initial sounds of both syllables 
in 'uh-oh.' The ' symbol indicates the Arabic letter 'ayn, a sound absent 
in English but one that resembles the 'aaaah' noise a person makes when 
getting their throat checked by the doctor. In Arabic words, 'q' represents 
a voiceless velar sound produced at the back of the throat. It is non-existent 
in English, but one could most closely approximate this sound with the 
'c' sound at the beginning of the crow noise 'Caw! Caw!' 'Gh' indicates 
a sound similar to the French 'r,' and 'kh' represents a velar fricative like 
the sound of clearing one's throat. 'Dh' indicates the 'th' sound in words 
like 'that' or 'bother.' 'Th' represents the 'th' sound in words like 'bath.' 

I have omitted the Arabic definite article 'al-' unless it is an essential 
part of a construction, like the name Abd al-Rahman, and have retained 
the Arabic connective nouns 'ibn' (son of) and 'bint' (daughter of) instead 
of abbreviating them. 

In the Notes and Bibliography I have used the standard Library of 
Congress transliteration system, with the non-construct ta' marbuta 
indicated by an 'a.' I use (s) for the honorific Arabic phrase 'May the peace 
and blessings of God be upon him (salla Allah 'alayhi wa sallam)' which 
is commonly said and written after Muhammad's name. 

Dates in this book will follow the Common Era format unless other- 
wise noted. 


The only unusual citation conventions in this book are those for citing 
mainstay Sunni Hadith collections. I have followed the standard Wensinck 
system of citing to the chapter, subchapter of every book (e.g., Sahih 
al-Bukhari: kitab al-buyu, bab dhikr al-khayyat) except the Musnad of Ibn 
Hanbal, which is cited to the common Maymaniyya print. All translations 
are my own unless otherwise indicated in the endnotes. 


The Problem(s) with Islam 


Among the teeming and terrified crowd of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir 
Square in January 201 1, a young man and an older man crouched huddled 
next to each other as bullets from the security services whizzed overhead. 
In the din, the two spoke of how the Prophet Muhammad had once 
declared that whoever dies speaking truth to a tyrant will die a martyr. 
They spoke of the great martyrs of the Prophet's day, who awaited those 
latter-day believers who would one day join them in Paradise. Seized by 
inspiration, the young man cried, T will greet them for you,' stood up and 
was shot in the head. T touched his blood with my hands,' the elder man, 
a famous Muslim preacher, it turns out, recounted later in a TV interview. 
It smelled like perfumed musk.' 1 

One of the first changes I noticed when 1 visited Egypt soon after 
Mubarak's fall was that Cairo's metro map had changed. The Mubarak sta- 
tion had been renamed and the dictator's name expunged from all maps 
and signs. Even the lists of station stops above the doors in the metro cars 
had been amended. They bore the station's new name, 'Shohadaa' - The 
Martyrs. In the traffic-heavy Sadat station beneath Tahrir Square, posters of 
many of the martyrs adorned the walls in an impromptu memorial. Some 
were no more than enlarged photos. Others were photoshopped with roses 
and pious epitaphs such as 'Every soul will taste death,' a verse from the 
Qur'an. Looking at each poster in turn, I thought of how uncomplicated 
it is to honor and grieve for the fallen in the heady throes of an uprising 



and its triumphal denouement. I thought about how unifying and unified 
a people's religion can be in such times. For the vast majority of Egyptians] 
these dead young men and women were not martyrs for some secular 
cause in a disenchanted world. The very term 'shohadaa' comes from the 
Qur'an and designates those who have fought and died in the path of God. 

Whether in its charred streets or its bitter media battles, revolutionary 
Egypt was a world full of God. Everywhere one heard the words of His 
revelation, the Qur'an, adorning the banners of protesters or crackling 
with vintage piety from radios at sidewalk tea stands, recited by bygone 
masters. The Islam that Egyptians turned to in their common outpouring 
of grief and outrage seemed at times monolithic and as uncontested as the 
memorials to the martyrs on the metro walls. Reality was very different. 
Appearing on Egyptian state TV as the protests raged, one conservative 
Muslim cleric denied the haloes of martyrdom claimed for those protest- 
ers who had already died. Quoting a ruling by the Prophet Muhammad, 
he stated that, since they had been fighting fellow Muslims, in God's eyes 
no one who died in Tahrir was a martyr. He called on the protesters to go 
home and prevent the further spilling of Muslim blood. 2 This cleric's voice 
was only one among many. Since the first glimmer of protest in Egypt 
there had been deep contention over Islam's position on the obedience 
due a ruler and a people's right to rebel. As the protests against Mubarak 
grew, revolutionary barricades were turned into impromptu rostra, and 
along with Egypt's airwaves and mosque pulpits they carried the spar- 
ring voices of political activists and Muslim clerics of all leanings making 
competing claims about Islam. Some of the revolutionary youth and the 
Muslim Brotherhood protesters quoted a famous saying of the Prophet 
Muhammad: "The best jihad is a word of truth before a tyrannical ruler.' 
Facebook posts countered this, especially from Muslims with more con- 
servative, Salafi leanings. They warned of the inevitable chaos of revolution 
and quoted another saying of the Prophet: 'Civil strife sleeps, and God 
curses whomever awakens it.' 

As Egypt's revolution turned from protests to parliamentary elections 
in the wake of Mubarak's ouster, Islam and Islamists dominated the media 
storm. The call for Egypt to be ruled by God's law, the Shariah, resounded. 
It resonated with millions, alarmed millions of others, and has not ceased. 
The press buzzed with decades of pent-up energy, and newspapers bubbled 
over daily with new controversy. Would the Muslim Brotherhood allow a 
Coptic Christian to be president of Egypt? Would the more conservative 

Islamic party of the Salafis accept a woman as president, or holding any 
high position? Islam and calls ferrule by God's law could no longer remain 
mere slogans or ideals that floated above the fray of politics and legislation. 
Public debates centered on the details of Qur'anic verses, such as God's 
command that Muslims 'not take unbelievers as friends and associates in 
the place of believers.' Editorials inquired about what would be made of 
the Prophet Muhammad's warning that 'No community will flourish if it 
entrusts its affairs to a woman.' All political camps proffered visions of what 
the details of Islamic law would mean for Egypt's future. Who spoke for 
Islam and how the scriptural sources of the religion would be interpreted 
were now pressing issues of policy. 

In 20 1 2, when a b ody of experts was convened to begin drafting Egypt's 
new constitution, the proper role of Islam was by far the most controversial 
issue at hand. A century earlier, the answer to this question would have 
come from only one source: the ulama of the Al-Azhar Mosque, Egypt's 
most famous center of religious learning and the heart of the state's 
religious establishment. The ulama (literally, the learned ones) are, as 
Muhammad once foretold, 'the heirs of the prophets.' For the past four- 
teen centuries these religious scholars have articulated the expansive and 
intricately detailed systems of Islamic law and dogma. While the ulama of 
Al-Azhar acquired a pastoral aura with their unmistakable charcoal robes 
and white and red turbaned fezzes, Islam has never had a formal clergy. 
Throughout the Islamic world the ulama did eventually take on the role 
of religious functionaries, but they have always been more rabbi than 
priest. Islam is a religion erected in a scholastic idiom of preserving the 
sacred knowledge of revelation and studying God's law. The ulama have 
thus always been scholars first and foremost. They penned the countless 
tomes that articulated the Shariah and served as the judges who applied 
it. They have been the shepherds who guide the Muslim masses and the 
chroniclers who record the history of the Umma, as the global community 
of Muhammad's followers is known. 

In Egypt today, however, the ulama of Al-Azhar are not alone. In the 
meetings of the constitutional drafting committee they found themselves 
side by side with rivals who offered their own visions of Islam. There were 
ulama of the Salafi movement, scholars more acquainted with Egypt's 
prisons than with employment in the state's religious bureaucracy, and 
who often work day jobs as physicians and engineers. Most Salafis acquired 
their religious learning in the conservative Islamic centers of Saudi Arabia 


rather than in Cairo. There were others on the committee who claimed 
to speak for Islam as well but who had not passed through the traditional 
education of the ulama. Lawyers and academics who had graduated from 
Egypt's Western-style universities and earne d recognition for their thinking 
on Islam, offered their own perspectives on the proper shape of Islamic 
law and the best ways to incorporate it into a democratic republic. 

No one on the committee, not even secularists resolutely opposed to 
any state role for Islam, dared to make unsupported claims about what 
Islam is or what it demands of its followers. Whatever argument they 
hoped to advance, they had to reach back to the authority of the past, 
into the heritage built up by the ulama. They had to justify their claims, 
either by referring to Islam's foundational scriptures or by drawing on 
its millennium-long tradition of scholarly interpretation, which digested 
those scriptures to construct the edifice of Islamic law and theology. When 
the committee presented its draft constitution to the Egyptian people for 
approval, its second article confirmed that the primary source of legisla- 
tion would be 'the principles of the Islamic Shariah.' These consisted of 
the religion's scriptural sources and the rational principles and methods 
of interpretation used to mine their meanings.* 

Only a few months later, in the summer of 2013, Egypt spiraled into 
chaos and a military coup ousted the Muslim Brotherhood president 
Mohammed Morsi. Like Egypt as a whole, the ulama ranks fractured over 
contrasting visions of Islam and its proper relation to the state. Yet again the 
airwaves and social networks sizzled with invocations of the book of God 
and the words ofHis Prophet as devoteesofthe resurrected ancien regime 
battled Morsi supporters for the religious high ground. Tied intimately 
to the state apparatus and unmoved by attachment to Western ideals of 
democratic process, the senior Al-Azhar ulama welcomed what they saw 
as areturn to stability. Ali Gomaa, a senior Al-Azhar cleric recently retired 
as Egypt's Grand Mufti, justified the coup with a parable expounded by 
the Prophet. The believers are passengers together on a boat; when one 
group starts drilling a hole in the hull they must be stopped by force or 
all will perish. Other ulama revealed the durability of that dimension of 
political consciousness that had made the Muslim Brotherhood so appeal- 
ing to Muslims in the mid-twentieth century. The aged Hasan Shafi'i read 

* Sadat added the present Article II to Egypt's constitution in 1980. The 2012 
constitution added the definition for the 'principles of the Shariah' in Article 219, 
which was removed in August 20 13. Article II remains intact. At the time of writing, 
the status of Egypt's constitution is in flux. 


from the crinkled notebook paper of his prepared statement, lamenting 
Egypt's slide back into authoritarianism and warning desperately of the 
bloodshed he knew would ensue. Though he had risen to the upper levels 
of the Al-Azhar clerical hierarchy, he recalled his youth in the Brotherhood 
in the 1950s, when he had been arrested and tortured 'in ways that I had 
not even read about in history books.' 

As Ramadan began and Egypt's summer neared the peak of its oppres- 
sive heat, supporters of ousted president Morsi gathered by the thou- 
sands for urban sit-ins. Addressing the crowds from makeshift stages, 
Brotherhood leaders inspired their supporters with stories of the Prophet 
and his Companions triumphing over their Meccan foes in battle during 
the Ramadan fast. When army bulldozers, shock troops andsnipers cleared 
the encampments, leaving thousands dead in the streets, enlivened state 
propaganda flooded the airwaves. In an interview on a pro-coup channel, 
Gomaa opined that Muslim Brotherhood supporters were arch-extremists 
whom the state must fight and defeat at all costs. He cited the Prophet's 
teaching that those who attempt to fracture the unity of the Muslims must 
be fought, 'whoever they are.' 3 The Mubarak-era media, both television and 
print, invoked the Prophet Muhammad's sacred authority as they cheered 
the army's takeover of the government. Dramatic pro-army montages 
incessantly extolled Egypt's military as 'the best soldiers on earth,' an 
apocryphal saying attributed to Muhammad. 4 As the bloodbath contin- 
ued, the military government issued a revised constitution that sought to 
remove much of its religious language. Yet Article II remained, perhaps 
too close to the bone to strip off. The principles of the Shariah remain the 
chief source of legislation in Egypt. 


In this book, I take the tradition of Sunni Islam* seriously and without 
apology. This is both merited and useful for a number of reasons. First and 
foremost, there is no doubt that the religious and civilizational edifice that 
the ulama constructed ranks among the greatest intellectual and cultural 
achievements in human history. It should be studied and appreciated in 

* I am focusing on Sunni Islam because this book may he too long as it is, and many 
of the phenomena and developments discussed here are mirrored in Shiite Islam. 


its own right regardless of whether one believes its claims to truth and 
regardless of any responsibility it might bear for contemporary crises. ! 

Second, because the Islamic tradition formed the backbone of a world 
civilization, it necessarily dealt with challenges common to other religious 
and philosophical traditions. A study of how the Sunni ulama have tackled 
the challenges of interpreting scripture, applying law and guiding the laity 
quickly reveals that they were engaged in many of the same conversa- 
tions as classical Greco-Roman philosophers, medieval Christians, Jews, 
Buddhists and the founders of the United States. One perennially pressing 
issue is the challenge of reconciling the claims of truth and justice made 
by scripture with what the human mind considers true and just outside it. 
Another is the challenge of deciding who speaks for God, balancing the 
need to circumscribe this authority with the danger that such controls 
can limit or distort God's message. A third challenge is determining the 
ultimate nature of truth and reality. Are those guardians who speak on 
behalf of scripture allowed to misrepresent surface facts for the greater 
good of their followers, or is such inaccuracy a betrayal of the truth they 
claim to hold paramount? 

Finally, the solutions that the Islamic tradition produced for the global 
human challenges it faced offer valuable insights and reveal the limitations 
of Western discourse on reform in Islam. Some aspects of Islam that seem 
glaringly problematic today actually resulted from efforts to answer ques- 
tions so fundamental that they have never been resolved definitively by 
anyone. Their answers are not so much right or wrong as they are choices 
between competing priorities, such as whether and when it is acceptable 
to tell a lie for a good cause. 

Sometimes the solutions offered by the Islamic tradition to common 
challenges provide useful correctives. There is much exasperation among 
Western leaders over mobs of Muslim protesters failing to transcend 
religious chauvinisms and accept the dictates of 'reason.' Faced with this 
complaint, medieval ulama would observe that what one person insists 
is 'reasonable' is often no more than the conventions and sensibilities of 
their particular culture. It cannot be compelling to someone outside that 
culture without recourse to some transcending authority. Another common 
frustration with religion comes from atheists or skeptics who object that 
modern scientific discoveries contradict scripture and thus disprove its 
divine origin. This would perplex the medieval ulama. Many such discov- 
eries are actually not that modern, they would point out, and they would 


add that they had reconciled their interpretation of Islam's scriptures to 
such empirical observations centuries ago. Responding to the frequent 
calls today for a 'Muslim Martin Luther,' medieval ulama would suggest 
that much of the violence and extremism found in the Muslim world results 
precisely from unlearned Muslims deciding to break with tradition and 
approach their religion Luther-like 'by scripture alone.' 

Scripturae is the Latin word that Western Christianity adopted to 
translate the Hebrew and Greek for 'things written,' which Jews and early 
Christians had used to describe the sacred books of the Bible. We can 
sense something scripture -like in most religions, though composing one 
global definition for scripture seems impossible. Things we would call 
scripture are too diverse in content and form. Perhaps the best approxi- 
mation comes from Harvard's William Graham, who describes scripture 
as a 'sacred and authoritative text.' More exact identifications, Graham 
suggests, must come from the lips of the beholder. What constitutes 
scripture for a particular group of people is whatever that community 
endows with religious salience. Scripture is something created by a com- 
munity or tradition when it valorizes a text as 'sacred or holy, powerful 
and meaningful, possessed of an exalted authority... distinct from other 
speech and writing.' 5 

In the West we tend to think of scripture as a discrete, tangible holy 
book or a closed canon of such books. It would seem by definition to 
take written form. Most scripture does, although the Hindu Vedas and 
the Zoroastrian Avesta were transmitted orally by memory for centuries 
before finally being set down in writing. They are at heart 'oral scripture.' 
Scripture can also lack clear boundaries, with semi- canonical parts enjoy- 
ing a status between the sacred and the profane. Even a body of scripture 
as well known as the Bible in Western Christianity is not monolithic or 
homogeneously scriptural. The King James Bible came to include thirty- 
nine books of the Old Testament and twenty-seven books of the New. The 
Catholic Latin Vulgate Bible, however, includes the additional fourteen 
(or fifteen) books of the Apocrypha, which Jews considered valuable but 
did not include in the Hebrew Bible. The exact demarcations of scripture 
can be contested even within one sect. Many English Protestants disliked 
the Apocrypha, while Martin Luther maintained its books were 'useful 
and good to read.' There can be total disagreement about what has the 
status of scripture to begin with. Stoic philosophers of the first century c e 
honored the Iliad and the Odyssey as scriptural vessels of philosophical 


wisdom, while at the same time the learned satirist Lucian mocked Homer 
for writing lies and passing them off as philosophy. 6 ; 

Islam's scriptures were once oral but were set down in writing in time. 
The faith's scriptural foundation is made up of two parts. Its core is the 
Qur'an, which Muslims believe to be the unchanging record of God's 
revealed words, a small volume that can be gripped and memorized 
word for word. Around it are the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, 
amorphous and contested. A saying of the Prophet or a description of his 
actions is known as a Hadith, and it is primarily over the Hadiths and their 
contents that Islam's sects and schools of thought have diverged. What 
one camp considers an authentic and compelling teaching of the Prophet, 
another considers a forgery. In light of this contest, the exact number of 
supposed Hadiths defies calculation. Though both Sunni and Shiite Islam 
have developed compilations of Hadiths that are relied on as authorita- 
tive references, these books enjoy no monopoly. The indistinct corpus 
of Hadiths in Sunni as well as Shiite Islam surrounds the solid nucleus of 
the Qur'an like a nimbus, its inner reaches made up of a narrow band of 
well-known Hadiths that circumscribe the established teachings and prec- 
edent of the Prophet. These are surrounded with layer after layer of more 
Hadiths, becoming less and less reliable and often more controversial as 
they stretch outward, until their muted light fades into profane blackness. 

Islam's scriptures have always posed a great obstacle to Western 
attempts to understand the religion. The Qur'an's format and style would 
strike anyone accustomed to the Bible as unusual. It is non-linear, with 
no one narrative flow within individual chapters or across the book as a 
whole. This has confounded non-Muslim readers for centuries. Despite 
incalculable advances in scholarship on and awareness of other lands and 
cultures, Christian and European reactions to the Qur'an changed little 
between the eighth century and the 1800s. It has always been described 
as disjointed and incomprehensible. Writing in the mid-700s, John of 
Damascus mocked the Qur'an as a bizarre mishmash of heretical Christian 
teachings that Muhammad had cobbled together. Even Voltaire, who lauded 
Islam warmly when it suited his satirical ends (like belittling the Catholic 
Church or Jews), dismissed the Qur'an as full of contradictions, absurdi- 
ties and patent scientific falsehoods. 7 Though he counted Muhammad as 
the most sincere of men (indeed one of the 'great men' who changed the 
course of history), Thomas Carlyle described the Qur'an as impenetrably 
befuddling, 'insupportable stupidity, in short.' 3 


The Hadith corpus fared better until the modern period, when these 
reports about Muhammad began attracting withering scholarly criticism 
from European orientalists. Western critics got off to a late start because, 
until the emergence of a historical- critical approach to the Bible in the late 
eighteenth century, European scholars thought of Hadiths as no different 
from any other type of historical report, like those compiled by antique 
historians about Julius Caesar. Christians who did grasp the essential scrip- 
tural character of the Hadiths, like a ninth-century Arab Christian engaged 
in anti-Islam polemics in Baghdad, dismissed their reliability, particularly 
when Hadiths attributed miraculous acts to the Prophet Muhammad. Such 
early attacks on Hadiths from non-Muslims in Baghdad were facilitated 
by the ulama's admission that they had themselves uncovered thousands 
and thousands of forged Hadiths. 9 

Whether due to the challenges of accessing Islam's scriptures or because 
of media bias, students have asked me more than once if Islam is a 'real' 
religion. This question is not absurd in the Unite d States, where lawmakers 
and lawyers have argued in court that Islam is a cult undeserving of the 
legal protections afforded 'proper' faiths. Nor is the question unthink- 
able in the UK, where Tony Blair recently opined that 'there is a problem 
within Islam.' 10 In such an environment it is not easy to convince people 
to take Islam seriously as a religion. It is an even taller order to ask folk to 
treat it as it unquestionably deserves, namely as one of humanity's most 
accomplished and relevant intellectual traditions. 

This is not to say that Western criticisms of Islam, as well as those 
coming from disapproving Muslims, are difficult to understand. Few 
things seem more repugnant than religious intolerance, luringyoung men 
to murderous deaths with carnal promises of virgins in Heaven, allowing 
polygamy and marrying teenage girls to old men. Though such practices 
might have been acceptable at some point in the past, few in the West 
would welcome them in this day and age. Speaking for a West proud of 
having cast off centuries of superstition and religious extremism, Tony Blair 
explained that such Muslim practices and values are 'not compatible with 
pluralistic, liberal, open-minded societies.' His words echo the common 
diagnosis, bandied about as self-evident truth by Western media pundits, 
that the Muslim world needs its own Reformation and Enlightenment. 

It is often difficult, however, to distinguish those criticisms of Islam that 
are grounded in demonstrable moral realizations from those that merely 
mask cultural biases. Often Islam's most denounced barbarisms are nothing 


more than prosaic differences in dietary preference and dress. In the 2012 
Oscar-winning film Argo, a mob of fanatical, screaming men with unkempt 
beards and women inheadscarves storms the US embassy in 1979 Tehran. 
The American embassy staff are besieged along with the good, modern 
Iranians, beardless and with uncovered hair, who are waiting for visas for 
the US . The dangers facing the film's protagonist as he makes his way by air 
to the newly declared Islamic Republic are signaled by the flight attendants 
announcing forebodingly that the crew will collect any remaining alcoholic 
beverages. When he escapes Iran's airspace, his safety is marked by the 
attendant announcing that passengers are now free to imbibe. 

Whether the subject is Iran, Egypt, Turkey or Tunisia, the narrative of 
Islam in the Western media and blogosphere is almost always the same. 
Tradition is gradually givingway to modernity. Black veils and prohibition 
mark the former. Flowing hair, Western dress and a good drink mark the 
latter. Open-minded, critical scholars are revealing cracks in the vaults of 
religious orthodoxy and allowing the light of modern reason to shine in. 
Islamists and the dragoons of conservatism might win battles, but in time 
the forces of liberal democracy will win the war. All they want, after all, is 
to live in a reasonable and tolerant country. News provides much of the 
fodder for this narrative, such as the taped testimonials of suicide bomb- 
ers describing their desire to enter a Paradise with its seventy-two virgins 
promised to martyrs. Films like Argo and television serials reinforce and 
complement these images so routinely and unnecessarily that one hardly 
notices. A film with no logical link to Islam, Taken (2008), follows Liam 
Neeson as he hunts down the heartless Albanian (Muslim) syndicate that 
has kidnapped his teenage daughter until he finally finds the corpulent, 
yacht- owning Arab (Muslim) sheik who has purchased her, killing him 
only moments before this villain can deflower her. 

The gratuitous anti-Muslim racism in Taken points to a larger realiza- 
tion. The West's problem with Islam is not at its core an objective matter 
of those who have achieved Enlightenment disapproving of those who 
have not, or of the modern, secular and liberal rebuffing the traditional, 
fanatical and conservative. It runs too deep into the past, with too much 
consistency and too much blindness to its own absurdity. Whether in its 
dispensation of Byzantium, Christendom (the Latin West) or in its modern 
form, the Christian Mediterranean/ West has a problem with Islam perse. 
Even for the giants of Enlightenment thought, who built the intellectual 
foundations of modern secularism, religion was not the problem. Voltaire 


and Rousseau certainly called out the unparalleled dangers posed by 
intolerant and extreme forms of any religion, but Islam was inherently 
dangerous. Montesquieu wrote that 'a religion must temper the mores of 
men' in order to be 'true.' Islam did not meet this standard, in his opin- 
ion. Seemingly neglecting countless dynastic wars, the Crusades (with 
their array of heretical Christian, Muslim and Jewish targets) and the 
Reformation Wars of Religion, Montesquieu remarked that Christianity 
has nurtured peace, benevolent monarchies and liberal republics. Islam, 
by contrast, has fostered violence and despots. 11 

European lists of the affronts committed by Islam were well worn long 
before the budding of Enlightenment sensibilities. In fact, they go back to 
the earliest Eastern and later Latin Christian confrontations with Muslims. 
The themes of Muslim violence and excessive, dangerous sexuality loom 
large in the first Christian writings against Islam, such as those of John 
of Damascus in the mid-eighth century. Pope Urban II 's call for the First 
Crusade in 1095 invoked the barbaric destruction supposedly wrought by 
the armies of Islam on the Holy Land. Martin Luther's invective against 
the Ottoman Turks draws on perennial tropes of Muslims' penchant for 
murder and their religion's disregard for 'proper' marriage. 12 

The Enlightenment's Republic of Letters elaborated a more supercilious 
air of moral disapproval. Its condemnation of Islam was a study in cognitive 
dissonance. The French Enlightenment critic of Christian backwardness, 
Pierre Bayle, did launch equally barbed comments against Islam. He decried 
the religion's unfair treatment of women, permission of spousal beating 
and divorce. Yet he seems not to have minded that France in his day denied 
married women the right to own property or divorce their husbands. His 
contemporary, Lady Montagu, who had actually frequented the harems 
of Istanbul and befriended Ottoman women, objected that "tis very easy 
to see they have more liberty than we have,' since they enjoyed full rights 
to property and movement. 13 Only in 1938 did French women attain full 
capacity before the law, managing to acquire rights that the architects of 
the Shariah had granted women as early as the seventh century. In their 
efforts to bring the legal system of their Indian Muslim subjects closer in line 
with 'justice, equity and good conscience,' British colonial administrators 
remarked on what they considered the brutal and inhuman punishments 
meted out by Islamic law. Yet one awkward adjustment made by the British 
was to remedy how difficult they found it to sentence criminals to death 
in the Shariah courts they oversaw, since Shariah law acknowledged only 


five capital crimes. East India Company judges no doubt pined for justice 
back home, where in the 1820s British law listed over two hundred death- 
penalty offenses, including stealing firewood and poaching fish. 14 

Western antipathy for Islam has included contempt for the ulama. 
Even at the dawn of serious European study of the Islamic tradition in 
the late seventeenth century, it was already assumed that Muslim scholars 
had little to offer Europeans trying to dissect Islam and Islamic history. 
Voltaire proclaimed that Muslims had no knowledge of their own Prophet 
until the English scholar George Sale undertook a study of Muhammad. 15 
As industrial wealth, scientific discovery and military might elevated 
European scholars to new heights of confidence, criticisms of Islam's 
scholarly tradition intensified accordingly. The benightedness of the East 
as a whole was not a matter of debate among European colonizers, but the 
medieval scholarly heritage of Islam attracted particular contempt. "The 
entire native literature of India and Arabia' was not worth 'a single shelf 
of a good European library,' concluded the British historian Macaulay in 
the mid-nineteenth century. 16 In his immensely popular faux travel log, 
The Persian Letters, Montesquieu posed as a Persian visitor to France 
who, among many disillusioned reflections on his homeland, expresses 
his realization that Persia's ulama had never been able to answer any real 
questions of morality or religious profundity. They could do no more than 
quote scripture by rote. 17 Although he fawned over the romantic purity 
of early, Arabian Islam, the nineteenth-century French historian Ernest 
Renan concluded that the Persian and Turkish peoples who had borne 
Islam through the medieval period and into the modern world had adul- 
terated it irretrievably. In particular, he considered the medieval scholarly 
traditions of Sunni theology to be irrational and intolerant, propagated by 
the ulama's dogmatic and barren educational system. 18 

Western scholarly and scientific development was, of course, emi- 
nently indebted to Islamic civilization in fields from medicine (Avicenna's 
Qanun was used as the standard medical textbook in Europe through the 
seventeenth century) to scholastic theology (Thomas Aquinas admitted 
relying heavily on Averroes to understand Aristotle). Yet Renaissance 
heralds of Europe's newfound scientific promise could not admit their vast 
indebtedness to the hated, infidel Saracens. Avicenna, Averroes and other 
undeniably prominent Muslims in the Western scholarly pantheon had 
to be uprooted completely from their 'Islamic' environment. 19 Avicenna 
the physician was not recognized as Ibn Sina the Islamic philosopher 


and mystic. Europeans embraced the Andalusian philosopher Averroes, 
who wrote such illuminating commentaries on Aristotle and Plato. They 
ignored that Ibn Rushd, as he was actually called, was the chief Shariah 
judge of Cordoba and a luminary of the ulama who spent two decades 
writing a comprehensive manual of Islamic law. To their own detriment, 
Europeans also neglected Ibn Rushd's groundbreaking reconciliation of 
religion and philosophy. 20 The credit that Muslim scholars would receive 
from pioneers of modernism like Henri de Saint-Simon and even numerous 
National Geographic issues would not go beyond their role in 'transmit- 
ting Greek learning' to the West. 21 When Western scholars have evinced 
an appreciation or admiration for Islamic scholarship, it is never for the 
religious sciences of law, language theory, exegesis, scriptural criticism or 
theology, which formed the voluminous core of the ulama's world. 

This is a book about how a community has understood those scriptures 
that it considers its foundations. It is about a faith tradition that came 
to believe that God had revealed the truth to humankind in the form of 
revelation to His Prophet and that was then faced with the challenge of 
understanding what that truth meant in distant times and places, both 
as an ideal and as a practiced reality binding that community together. 
This is a book about a proud, at times overconfident tradition that had 
its cosmology of truth shattered by a confrontation not only with a more 
powerful civilization but also with a new stage in human history. It is about 
how that tradition has responded, sometimes turning inward to defend 
its integrity and sometimes adopting the novel and the strange. This is a 
book about how Sunni Islam was constructed and reconstructed, about 
the scriptures on which it was built and the ulama who built it. 

In the end, this book is a sort of paean to an intellectual and religious 
tradition that nurtured a light of wisdom not only for its own adherents 
but for outsiders as well. As demonstrated by the many books and TV 
specials on Islamic science and the plethora of works on Sufism in Western 
bookstores, the scientific and spiritual treasures of this wisdom have been 
recognized. What I hope to bring forth in this book is Islam's contributions 
to an area at once profoundly theoretical but also eminently practical, 
namely the science of interpreting scripture, reconciling its claims of truth 
and justice with what is true and just outside its text. I hope to offer glimpses 
into the world of the ulama and their books, a world that I at first wanted 
to observe as an object of study but soon found to be an interlocutor that 
all too often showed me the limitations of the worldview I had grown up 


in and revealed my own intellectual arrogance. It was sitting at the feet 
of particularly capable ulama in Al-Azhar and elsewhere, watching them 
perform the delicate and controversial tasks of interpreting Islam's scrip- 
tures in a fraught time, that I really learned to think. Their story deserves 
to be told in its own right. Though I try to limit myself to narrating this 
journey, there are points at which I cannot keep silent and, as one says in 
Arabic, 'pour out my own bucket from the well.' I will begin this book as 
the ulama have always ended theirs, with the admission that I may well 
be wrong and that 'God knows best.' 

A Map of the Islamic Interpretive Tradition 

Lost in the urban chaos between the tangled lanes of Old Delhi 
and the leafy boulevards of the new city lies a Muslim graveyard, 
unexpectedly inhabited by both the quick and the dead. At its 
center is a school. When I came to visit the Rahimiyya Madrasa, I found 
its entrance down a narrow path lined with brightly dyed yarn hung to 
dry between tombstones, obstructed by an impromptu soccer match and 
guarded by a solitary goat wearing a recycled sports jacket. The school is 
the modern descendant of the seminary founded by the eighteenth-century 
family of scholars who now lie buried in the humble mausoleum around 
which the graveyard grew. 

I had for some time hoped to stand there above one grave in particular 
and pay my respects. When historians try to map out the past, it is often to 
make sense of a present that, like the fluid chaos of Delhi's streets, offers 
glimpses of some elusive order that must be there but seems always just 
out of frame. As a historian, I had found a convincing order brought to 
the past in the writings of that one grave's occupant. The more I pondered 
the turmoil of Egypt's revolution, and indeed all the scenes of great intel- 
lectual struggle in the Muslim world, the more it seemed that the paths to 
the present day all passed sooner or later through this great scholar's mind. 

In 1732, Shah Wali Allah, the scion of a learned clan of Delhi ulama, 
returned home from his studies in the distant Arabian cities of Mecca and 
Medina to take up his father's place teaching at the Rahimiyya Madrasa. 
The school lay just outside the city's colossal red sandstone walls, which 
extended impossibly far into the distance and stood in relief against the lush 
expanse of green stretching to the horizons of the Ganges plain. Women 
cloaked in scarlet and yellow, curtained palanquins carrying merchants 


and gentlemen, camels, carts and elephants strolled in and out of sight 
through the city gates. This was the grand capital that India's Muslim rulers 
had chosen five centuries earlier as their base from which to rule over a 
vast land, one quarter of whose population would one day enter the fold 
of Islam. The Muslim Mughal Empire that shaped Shah Wali Allah's world 
was held together by its Turkic warrior princes in fragile alliance with 
Hindu maharajas across northern India. The language of this blended ruling 
class, and Shah Wali Allah's mother tongue, was Persian. The artistic style 
of their palaces blended the thousand-pillar porticoes of Indian temples 
and the delicate ceramic tiles of Iran. It was indeed far from the craggy 
ravines and earthen-tone huts of Mecca, where Shah Wali Allah's religion 
had been born almost twelve hundred years earlier. 

Yet Shah Wali Allah, perhaps more than any other mind of his day, 
seemed to epitomize the breadth and depth of Islam's intellectual tradi- 
tion. Sitting in the sweltering humidity of the Delhi summer, the man who 
would become India's greatest Muslim scholar sat to write an intellectual 
history that explained how the single message delivered by the Prophet 
Muhammad in Arabia had resulted in the stunning plurality and dissonance 
of the Muslim intellectual landscape. 

As fascicules grew heavy with the labor of his pen, Shah Wali Allah 
charted the ramose temperaments, priorities and concerns that shaped 
how the prophetic moment in Arabia spread and settled along the wind- 
ing coil of history. He traced how the ulama, 'the heirs of the prophets,' 
had struggled to unlock the Qur'an and the teachings of Muhammad 
to give structure to a new and diverse world that they took it upon 
themselves to guide. He described the tension between their com- 
mitment to preserving the truth of revelation from the corruptions of 
human speculation on the one hand, and their acceptance that even the 
words of God depended on human minds in order to be understood on 
the other. His book enumerated different camps of scholars and how 
each had favored different vehicles for preserving and understanding 
Muhammad's teachings, from the living tradition of communal practice, 
to the interpretive principles underlying the Prophet's teachings, to the 
literal text of his words. 

Shah Wali Allah wrote to bring order to his own intellectual world, 
which was racked by strife and dissent. Moving between his native Islamic 
heritage in India and his studies in Arabia, he had witnessed archetypal 
tensions between a confidence in human reason and a fideistic reliance 


on revealed texts; between the outward strictures of God's law and the 
mystical longing for God Himself; between following in the accumulated 
footsteps of those who had built the rich Islamic tradition over the centuries 
and returning to its origins in order to renew it. 

Reading Shah Wali Allah's book today, the ideological sparring and 
dramas that continue to shape the Muslim world seem smoothed into order 
on the page as the author untangles them, tracing the roots of diversity 
and fragmentation in the Islamic community of his own day. Shah Wali 
Allah is a worthy guide to the rich terrain of Islamic tradition, leading his 
reader from the dawn of the faith to the cusp of the modern world, when 
the interpretive order that he exemplified was shattered. He wrote his 
bookin the language of Islamic scholarship, Arabic, and entitled it Al-Insaf 
fi Bayan Asbab al-Ikhtilaf, 'An Evenhanded Elucidation of the Causes of 
Disagreement.' 1 


'The slaves of God can do deeds that please the Lord of the Worlds, deeds 
that displease Him and deeds that cause neither anger nor approval,' 
explained Shah Wali Allah. This statement underlined the great questions 
at the heart of the Islamic tradition: how should God be understood, what 
actions please Him and how should human society be ordered to accord 
with His will? To find answers, Muslim scholars turned to three sources. 
First, there was the Qur'an, "The Recitation' bestowed from on high upon 
Muhammad. Held to be the word of God in Arabic, it was revealed through 
the angel Gabriel to Muhammad intermittently over the course of his 
twenty-three-year prophetic career. It descended in verses and sometimes 
in whole chapters to answer questions, to inspire, to warn and to provide 
glimpses into the power of the divine and the nature of the unseen. It was 
the one intact moment of God's instruction to humankind. As the years 
passed, Muhammad ordered and reordered these separate transcripts 
into chapters forming a stream of divine consciousness, neither a strict 
chronology nor a linear narrative. The Qur'an lived privately in the recita- 
tions, prayers and scattered parchments of Muhammad's followers until 
the revelation was formalized in one official copy some twenty years after 
the Prophet's death. 


Although the Qur'an was the epicenter of the Islamic movement, it was 
not a lengthy book. Shah Wali Allah memorized it by heart before he was 
seven years old (many Muslims still do the same today), and only a frac- 
tion of its verses provide details about Islamic law or dogma. The five daily 
prayers and the details of the Ramadan fast are found nowhere in the holy 
book. These were provided by Muhammad's teachings and his authorita- 
tive precedent, which explained and elaborated on the Qur'an. Known 
as the Sunna, or "The Tradition/ Muhammad's collective words, deeds, 
rulings and comportment were understood to be the Qur'an's message 
implemented in one time and place by the living example of the infallible 
'Messenger of God.' How the Sunna was communicated and implemented 
in subsequent generations would be a central cause of diversity in Islam. 

The tendency of Western readers to assume that 'scripture' refers only 
to the book written by or revealed to a prophet and not to the prophet 
himself misunderstands the nature of scripture in Islam. The full systems 
of Islamic theology and law are not derived primarily from the Qur'an. 
Muhammad's Sunna was a second but far more detailed living scripture, 
and later Muslim scholars would thus often refer to the Prophet as "The 
Possessor of Two Revelations.' 

Alone, however, the revelation of the Qur'an and the Tradition or 
Sunna that accompanied it would be voices unheard. It was the minds of 
Muslims poring over this 'Urn, or sacred knowledge, that interpreted it and 
mapped it onto earthly affairs. The meaning of the Qur'an's language and 
edicts had to be determined, and the myriad sayings of the Prophet placed 
within a hierarchy of rules and exceptions. Ultimately, human reason was 
thus a third source of guidance. It derived scales of equity and principles 
from the revealed teachings of the Qur'an and Sunna and then reapplied 
them to those two sources to ensure that they were understood properly. 
It scanned and digested the natural world that God had created, reading 
the Qur'an and Sunna coherently against its backdrop. 


A terrifying two -hour drive north of Delhi, along potholed roads plied by 
every kind of beast of burden and motor vehicle, takes you to the village 
of Kandhla, only a few kilometers from where Shah Wali Allah was born. 
The sight of enormous sows and porkers rutting in garbage at the issue of 


the old town's narrow lanes belies Kandhla's fame as a cradle of Islamic 
learning. Neglected and embattled, the town is still home to some of the 
old dynasties of madrasa scholars that intermarried with Shah Wali Allah's 
descendants and preserve his writings in vast private libraries. Sitting 
for the midday meal in one of these beleaguered but proud old houses, 
the Prophet's exemplars are ubiquitous. Beards are all long enough to be 
grabbed with a fist, as Muhammad's was. Food is raised to the mouth with 
the right hand only, plates wiped and fingers licked clean, as Muhammad 
would do. Water is drunk in three sips, each with words of prayer mumbled 
after it, and the satiated patriarch of the family recites the words of grati- 
tude that his Prophet taught his followers in the distant world of Arabia 
over fourteen centuries ago. 'Praise be to God, who has fed us and given 
us drink and made us Muslims.' 

When inhabitants of the Near East first began encountering the Muslims 
coming out of Arabia, they would remark how: 'Your prophet has taught 
you everything, even how to shit.' 2 This would seem strange to the multi- 
tudes of gentiles who had followed Paul's Christianity. For them, the notion 
of a prophet bringing an all-encompassing law, permeated with mention 
of pure or impure foods and times and places of ritual sanctity, would be 
difficult to grasp. For the Jews of Palestine and Babylonia, whose detailed 
law Christians believed Jesus had fulfilled, the Shariah of Islam would be 
much more familiar. Like the great second-century Rabbi Akiva, whose 
students observed his every gesture and once even stole into the toilet to 
watch how their master cleaned himself, Muhammad's body of actions 
was a living exemplar of God's law. 3 

During his lifetime, Muhammad's authority among his followers in the 
Muslim community of Medina was twofold. He was the political leader of 
the city, but more importantly he was the medium of God's word and the 
sole architect of a new religion. 'It is not for a believing man or woman 
that they should have any choice in a matter when God and His Messenger 
have decided it,' the Qur'an proclaimed (33:36). Disputes were to be 
brought before Muhammad, whom God instructed to 'judge between them 
according to what is just' (4:58) and 'by what God has revealed' (5:48). 
The Qur'an commanded the Muslims over and over to 'obey God and 
obey His Messenger.' 'If you dispute a matter, bring it before God and the 
Messenger if indeed you do believe in God and the Last Day,' the Qur'an 
ordered, 'that is more goodly for you and best in the end' (4:59). The 
Muslims around Muhammad tried to imitate him in every aspect of his life, 


seeing a lifestyle pleasing to God in the way he walked, ate and washed. 
This comprehensive mandate for religion would be a defining hallmark of 
the Shariah, or God's sacred law. 

When Muhammad died in 632, his followers were devastated and con- 
fused. The Companions, as the generation of Muslims who lived with and 
learned from the Prophet became known, did not know who would lead 
them. Who now would explain what God expected from them? In a dispute 
that would resonate and deepen for centuries to come, the Companions 
arrived at a tenuous settlement on succession. Although a party of lead- 
ing Companions believed that Muhammad's cousin, son-in-law and early 
follower Ali bin Abi Talib should lead the Muslims, the quarreling tribal 
factions among the Companions could only settle on the Prophet's oldest 
friend and senior lieutenant, Abu Bakr. 

In this moment of transition, the broad foundations of Sunni Islam 
were unconsciously laid out. Political leadership would fall on whomever 
the community accepted - or whomever the community had no choice 
but to accept after this person had 'assumed authority over it,' as Shah 
Wali Allah phrased it euphemistically. 4 More importantly, it would be the 
Muslim community as a whole, advised and spoken for by the learned 
among them, who would carry and define the message of Islam for future 
generations. In matters of law, ethics and dogma in Sunni Islam, the con- 
sensus of the ulama, called Ijma', would become 'the firm pillar on which 
the religion is founded.' 


In Shah Wali Allah's day, Jerusalem was a small provincial town in the 
Ottoman Empire. It remained close to Muslim hearts, but its medieval 
heyday had long since passed. Travelers making their way from Damascus 
to Baghdad or Egypt - even those voyaging from as far away as India - 
rarely made it a station on their journey. An Ottoman judge in Jerusalem's 
Shariah court thanked God when a Sufi dervish foretold that he would be 
transferred to a proper city. 

For Christians, however, Jerusalem had never ceased to be the axis 
mundi, the center of the world. When the Frankish monk Arculf visited 
Jerusalem over a thousand years earlier in the 670s, he described an 


awesome city of grand and elegant stone. But the rude structure of awkward 
pillars and wooden planks that the 'Saracens' had erected atop the Temple 
Mount where Solomon's majestic Temple had once stood was built in 'a 
crude manner,' he recalled. Only twenty years later the same space would 
host the iconic Dome of the Rock and the massive Al-Aqsa Mosque, raised 
by the Arab rulers of Jerusalem to commemorate the place from which the 
Prophet Muhammad ascended to tour the heavens. When Arculf visited, 
the Muslims were still desert strangers encamped in a holy land. 5 

Within decades of Muhammad's death, his Companions, men and 
women who had been shepherds and merchants in the harsh earth of 
Arabia, sat in the palaces of Damascus and Cyrenaica. By 650, Muslim 
armies had advanced across North Africa and into Central Asia. In 711 
they crossed into Iberia in the west and into the Indus valley of Shah Wali 
Allah's native India. Yet the Bedouin troops who flocked to the victorious 
banners of Islam and settled in the new garrison cities of Egypt, Syria and 
Iraq knew little about the religion in whose name they fought. The farm- 
ers of Mesopotamia and the merchants of Bukhara who converted to the 
triumphant faith would never know the prophet who was the epicenter of 
this movement, and who now lay interred in the mosque of Medina. In this 
nascent civilization, it was the Companions of the Prophet, settled in the 
new cities of the Muslim empire, who were the representatives of Islam. 
They had to instruct their followers and meet the new ethical, theological 
and legal challenges that confronted them in strange lands. 

They faced unprecedented crises. In 656 the original succession crisis 
sparked by Muhammad's death plunged the Muslim community into a 
civil war that would not finally abate until 692, when the Umayyad family 
of the Prophet's tribe finally established uncontested authority over the 
new Islamic empire from their capital in Damascus. Yet the impious ways 
and unjust rule of the Umayyads bred bitter resentment among many 
Muslims. The radically different opinions about who had truly inherited 
the Prophet's authority to define God's law on earth only grew more pro- 
nounced. One camp, the emergent Shiah, held that Ali and the descendants 
of the Prophet through him should be the spiritual and political leaders. 
What became the Sunni majority held that the Muslim community, the 
Vmma, as a whole would come to consensus on those worthy of political 
or religious authority. As Umayyad power weakened, these contentions 
broke forth once more into strife in the 740s. A new dynasty, descended 
from the Prophet's uncle Abbas, drawing support from the lands of Persia 


and claiming to rule in the name of the Qur'an and Sunna, crushed the 
decadent Umayyads and built a new capital city at Baghdad. Under ihe 
looming shadow of the Abbasid Caliphate, the sects of Sunni and Shiah 
Islam gelled into their recognizable forms. 

Throughout these decades of conflict, the powerful forces of cultural 
chauvinism, sectarian certainties and political ambitions began encroach- 
ing onto the religious message of the early Muslims. The text of the Qur'an 
had already been fixed, but the uncontested authority of the Prophet's voice 
remained dangerously inchoate. Eager to insinuate their ideas and customs 
into the new religion, parties from every religious and political direction 
began placing their messages in the Prophet's mouth. Hadiths - reports of 
the Prophet's words or deeds - were forged by the thousands. Supporters 
of the Umayyad dynasty forged a Hadith in which the Prophet foretold that 
Mu'awiya, the first Umayyad caliph, would enjoy the intimate company of 
God, seated below His throne in the heavens, as recompense for the abuse 
his opponents dealt him in this world. 6 Mu'awiya himself encouraged his 
followers to forge Hadiths detracting from the standing of his opponents, 
the Shiah supporters of Ali and his descendants. 7 A concocted Hadith 
in which the Prophet supposedly foretold the founding of Baghdad was 
dueled over and spun by forgers for and against the Abbasid caliphs, some 
manipulating the forged Hadith to say that the dynasty's capital was 'as 
firmly planted as an iron stake in the earth' and others that 'it will sink 
faster than an iron stake in sandy ground.' 8 

The great challenge facing Muslim scholars amid this chaos was to resist 
the forces tugging at and impacting Islam and to preserve the religion in 
its true form. As the Qur'an cautioned, earlier communities such as the 
Christians and Jews had gone astray when they had allowed their own 
inclinations and speculations to lead them away from God's revealed truth. 
'Hold fast to the rope of God together, and do not break apart' (3:103), 
the Qur'an had warned. 

It was the bond of devotion to the sacred knowledge, Him, revealed 
to Muhammad that held the Muslim community together during these 
afflictions. Throughout years of brutal civil war, every year during the Hajj 
season trickles of Muslims from across the fractured empire would con- 
verge on Mecca in a great sea of white-clad pilgrims. A crucial assumption 
shared by the Muslims was that the revelation given to Muhammad was 
not relevant only to his lifetime and the founding Muslim community in 
Medina. The Prophet had been sent as 'a mercy to all the worlds' (21 : 1 07). 9 


#Qie Qur'an, compiled into official form and promulgated by the third 
i'.Muslim ru ler, Uthman, around 650, was understood to be an inexhaust- 
ible mine of guidance and truth - 'an elucidation of all things,' as it called 
•^Itself (16:89). The relatively short holy book was seen as a spark of divine 
^potential, the seed from which a holistic way of life and belief would bloom 
; the efforts of scholars to unlock its meanings through the lens 
- : 4f Muhammad's Sunna and their own reason. 

•0 Islam was thus a totalistic vision. The founding generations of Muslims, 
.Spread across a wide expanse, would not understand their religion as 
merely one part of their life, separate from daily etiquette, the rules of 
commerce or the courts. In time, Muslim scholars would develop a five- 
•itiered model for marking the status of any conceivable act in God's eyes. 
-Required' (wajib) acts would be rewarded by God in the Afterlife, and 
failing to carry them out would result in punishment by God and perhaps 
in this life by state authorities as well. 'Recommended' (mandub) acts 
were rewarded by God but not required for Muslims. If a person avoided 
'Disliked' (makruh) actions, God would reward him or her, but com- 
mitting them was nonetheless allowed. The 'Prohibited' (haram) acts 
carried the threat of punishment by God in the hereafter and possibly 
in this life by the state. 'Permitted' (mubah) was a narrow category of 
acts that had no value, positive or negative, in God's eyes. All conceiv- 
able words and deeds had some ruling under God's law, and, as an early 
Muslim scholar explained, it was not permitted for a Muslim to undertake 
■'anything without determining what that ruling was. To do this they had 
*to ask the ulama. 10 

/*? Yet who were the ulama of these first generations of Islam, and how 
, .-were they to guide their fellow faithful in belief and practice ? Tn every city 
'a leading scholar arose,' wrote Shah Wall Allah, and often more than one. 1 1 
.." The leading scholar of Iraq's bustling port city of Basra was the revered 
Hasan Basri (d. 728). Widely sought out for his piety and knowledge, Hasan 
% was turned to for explanations about how Muslims should understand their 
^religion and how they should interact with a startlingly diverse environ- 
'itaeat of Nestorian Christians, Jews and Persian Zoroastrians. Hasan had 
j*. been raised until adolescence in the household of one of the Prophet's 
^ Widows, whom his mother served as a maid. Living in Medina, Hasan 
S' had learned from senior Companions like the Prophet's son-in-law Ali bin 
E Abi Talib and his servant Anas bin Malik. He had gathered together the 
K sayings and descriptions of the Prophet from those Companions he had 


met, learning from them also how to implement the values and mindset 
of a Muslim when new questions arose. '■ 

When asked about how a Muslim should pray, whether or not a novel 
type of food or drink was permitted or how to settle a commercial dis- 
pute, Hasan looked for answers in the Qur'an, his knowledge of the 
Prophet's rulings and the opinions and principles he had learned from 
the Companions he had known. On one occasion, a man came to Hasan 
unsure of what to do because, when one of his slaves had run away, he 
had sworn to cut off the slave's hand in punishment when he found him. 
Must he fulfill this gruesome oath? Hasan recalled that the Companion 
Samura, who had settled in Basra, had told him that the Prophet used to 
encourage charity and forbid mutilating prisoners, and that the Prophet 
had once said, 'Whoever kills a slave, we will kill him; whoever mutilates 
a slave, we will mutilate him.' 12 

Unlike Christianity, in which a priest was invested with his office in a 
ritual presided over by senior clergy, Islam has no formal priesthood or 
process of ordination. Nor did the medieval Islamic community erect any 
stable institutions of learning producing graduates marked for religious 
distinction. Instead, the emergence of the Muslim scholarly class took place 
through the society's valorization of 'Urn and the community's recogni- 
tion of those deemed to possess it. In the early Islamic period, a gradual 
consensus formed around who these major pious figures were who, like 
Hasan Basri, carried this knowledge. The networks of the teachers and 
students that radiated outward from these early figures defined the ranks 
of the ulama. Like the Christian tradition of apostolic succession, a Muslim 
scholar derived his or her authority from the chain of teachers that linked 
them back to the font of 'Urn, the Prophet. Like Rabbinic Judaism, it was 
the transmission of sacred knowledge that created the authority to interpret 
God's scriptures and endowed individuals with it. 


Tracing Islam's movement out of Arabia, Shah Wali Allah described how, 
as different Companions settled in different cities, varied approaches to 
understanding Islam's teachings emerged. Not only did each group of 
Companions bring with them their own recollection of the Prophet's Sunna 
as well as their own understanding of the Qur'an, they also faced starkly 


divergent local environments. These early Muslims were a small minority 
compared to the huge native populations, and the specific customs, foods 
%nd climates of each region began impacting their lifestyles, 
•r In Kufa, a new Muslim garrison city in southern Iraq founded next 
.to the ancient Persian metropolis of Hira, the Companion 'Abdallah bin 
Ivfas'ud became a pillar of instruction and guidance, passing on much of his 
learning to his disciple 'Alqama bin Qays. As those few who had actually 
.•known Muhammad died off, the next generation, known as the Successors, 
picked up the mantle of leadership. Kufa soon looked to Ibrahim Nakha'i 
•as one of the most learned. He gathered together the traditions passed on 
by 'Alqama as well as those of the Prophet's favorite wife, Aisha, renowned 
for her perceptive understanding of Islam. Nakha'i's most famous student 
was Hammad bin Abi Sulayman, who in time passed his learning on to 
his talented disciple of eighteen years, a Kufan silk merchant of Persian 
descent known as Abu Hanifa (d. 767). He would become the epicenter 
of a great scholarly movement in the city, which would eventually be one 

Abu Hanifa developed a unique perspective on how to answer the 
question of what God expected from Muslims in the interpretive chaos 
that reigned after the end of prophecy. Surrounded by the jostling cultural 
and political flux of cosmopolitan Kufa, he turned to the Qur'an, those 
Hadiths he knew for sure to be reliable, the teachings of the Companions 
who had settled in Kufa and then his own reason. For him, the Qur'an was 
the anchor of any true understanding of God's will. Unlike the flurry of 
spurious Hadiths, the holy book remained an unchanged record of God's 
• instruction. Its verses and commandments were certainties that could not 
be dropped or altered by anything less than certain. Only the most reliable 
Hadiths, which did not contradict the evident truths of Islamic practice 
as Abu Hanifa understood them, could be allowed to alter how a Qur'anic 
ruling was interpreted. 

When asked, for example, if a person performing their ritual ablutions 
before prayer had first to formulate the intention to do so, Abu Hanifa 
said no. The Qur'an merely commanded those preparing for prayer to 
'wash your face and arms to the elbows, and wipe your heads and feet to 
the ankles' (5:6). It never mentioned forming an intention. A person who 
happened to submerge themselves in the nearby Euphrates would thus 
be, quite accidentally, ready to pray. Confronted with a Hadith in which 
the Prophet supposedly stated, 'Deeds are determined by intentions/ Abu 


Hanifa chose not to admit it as evidence. Far from being a well-known 
teaching of the Prophet, this Hadith had reached Abu Hanifa from only 
one person, who had heard it from only one person, who in turn had heard 
it from only one person, from only one other person, who had supposedly 
heard it from the Prophet. 13 How could a decision affecting the validity 
of an act performed at least five times a day by every Muslim depend on 
a report known to so few? 

Shah Wali Allah's discussion of the stereotypical punishment of cutting 
off a thief's hand for stealing reveals the complexity of how Abu Hanifa 
dealt with problems of law. One might imagine that, if presented with a 
question such as 'How should a thief who has stolen loaves of bread from a 
baker be punished?' Abu Hanifa and the young scholars who congregated 
around him would look first to the Qur'an. It states clearly, 'The thief, 
male or female, cut off their hand as a punishment for what they have 
earned...' (5:38). But Abu Hanifa would also remember that his teacher 
Hammad had heard the great Nakha'i tell that the Prophet only ordered 
this punishment if the item stolen was worth more than ten silver coins. 
Moreover, earlier Kufan masters had ruled, on the basis of a well-known 
Hadith from the Prophet, that "There is no amputation for stealing the fruits 
[of a palm tree] or its heart.' 14 But Abu Hanifa and his colleagues would still 
not have found a clear answer to the question of the loaves of bread in the 
Qur'an, the Hadiths or the Companion rulings at their disposal. How could 
they use these sources to cover new territory and resolve the question? 

Abu Hanifa developed a systematic form of analogical reasoning, called 
Qiyas, to extend the ruling of one situation to another based on a shared 
legal cause ( 'ilia) - that feature for which God or the Prophet had judged 
the situation in a certain way. By understanding what lay behind the rulings 
of the Qur'an and Hadiths, these rulings could be extended to unknown 
situations that shared the same legal causes. Abu Hanifa understood that 
the Prophet had ruled out the severe punishment of amputating a hand for 
stealing the yield of a palm tree because the fruit would soon rot anyway. 
It was too ephemeral to merit such a harsh response. He thus concluded 
that the theft of any foodstuff, such as a loaf of bread, that would quickly 
rot would not entail losing a hand. 15 

Of course, Qiyas was a precarious process. The Qur'an and Hadiths 
rarely explained clearly the legal caus e of a ruling, and it was left to scholars 
like Abu Hanifa to derive it from context. Some disagreed with his Qiyas in 
the case of date palms, arguing that the reason the Prophet had prohibited 


amputating a hand for stealing dates from trees was that in Medina such 
exposed fruit was considered semi-public property. 

More importantly, there may be no reason at all for a ruling. This was 
• especially the case in' the rules revealed by God and His Messenger on 
matters of ritual. God had forbidden pork in the Qur'an, calling it 'filth' 
(rijs) (6: 145). The Prophet had also instructed Muslims to wash out seven 
times any dish that a dog had drunk from. Did that mean dogs were ritually 
filthy too? Abu Hanifa and the majority of Muslim scholars used analogy 
to conclude that dogs were unclean. If one slobbered on your clothing, 
you could not pray in it. One scholar, Malik, disagreed. The Prophet 
allowed Muslims to use dogs in herding and to fetch game in hunting, 
Malik observed, so how could they be filthy? Malik concluded that the 
command to wash dishes drunk from by dogs was merely 'done out of 
worship' (ta'abbudi), an arational act of obedience performed for the sake 
of God alone and unrelated to dogs' ritual cleanliness or lack thereof. 16 

Important to Abu Hanifa's method for deriving law from scripture was 
the concept oi Istihsan, or 'seeking the best.' Sometimes the systematic 
application of Qiyas led to a result that Abu Hanifa and his circle consid- 
ered unjust or harmful. So an alternative analogical maneuver was sought 
out. When it came to the question of women selling their breast milk, 
at first Abu Hanifa and his circle of disciples found themselves forced 
to prohibit it. This was inevitable, due to two Qiyas analogies they had 
already developed. First, milk was a bodily fluid, like semen, and Abu 
Hanifa held that these fluids were impure when they left the body. Much 
like wine and other impure substances, these fluids could not be bought 
and sold. Also, Abu Hanifa had concluded, humans cannot sell parts of 
their bodies - the Prophet had forbidden 'weaves' made from human hair, 
for example - so selling a woman's milk could not be allowed either. This 
was a problematic ruling for parents who could not find sufficient breast 
milk for their children, however. Abu Hanifa and his circle thus engaged in 
Istihsan and drew a third analogy based on a separate scriptural command, 
namely the Qur 'an's statement that Muslims could consume the forbidden 
substances of pork and carrion in cases of necessity (2:173). Since infants 
had to consume the milk of their own species to survive, breast milk was 
an absolute necessity. Prohibition of its sale could be lifted, just as pork 
was permitted for a starving adult. 17 

In effect, Istihsan presupposed a scholar referencing some notion of 
equity or justice outside the boundaries of the literal texts of the Qur'an 


and Hadiths. But the whole point of analogy was extending the wisdom 
of these scriptures to new situations while remaining true to the revelaled 
truth of the Prophet's message. What place did an outside standard of 
fairness have in restricting this process? This would be a great cause of 
later controversy. 

Abu Hanifa's method of elaborating the Shariah, further developed by 
his leading students like Abu Yusuf and Muhammad Shaybani, became 
extremely influential in Iraq. Both these students found places in the 
Abbasid court in Baghdad, with Abu Yusuf appointed as the first chief 
judge of the empire. Shah Wall Allah described how Abu Hanifa came to 
exemplify the approach to the Shariah taken by a broad trend known as 
the Ahl al-Ra'y, the Partisans of Reason. 


Shah Wali Allah had been a late addition to his family. His father, Shah Abd 
al-Rahim, had long been one of the most respected ulama in the Mughal 
realm, and his talents and austere piety had won him and then cost him 
royal favor decades before his most famous son was born. When Shah Wali 
Allah was five, his father placed him in the school he supervised, and by 
seven the boy had memorized the Qur'an. He mastered Arabic and Persian 
letters soon thereafter and was married at fourteen. A childhood spent 
studying at his father's feet meant that by sixteen he had completed the 
standard curriculum of Hanafi law, theology and logic along with arithmetic 
and geometry. A year later, Shah Wali Allah would recall poignantly, his 
father and greatest teacher 'voyaged onward to the abode of God's mercy.' 

The young student's ambition to seek 'Urn remained strong, and by 
nineteen he had exhausted the knowledge of Delhi's scholars. So Shah Wali 
Allah voyaged across the Indian Ocean to perform his Hajj pilgrimage and 
pursue his studies in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. In the Prophet's 
mosque in Medina, at the feet of scholars from across the Muslim world, 
he studied a book to which he became exceedingly attached and which he 
viewed as the foundation for understanding the Prophet's Sunna. It was 
the Muwatta', the Well Trodden Path,' of the eighth-century scholar of 
Medina, Malik bin Anas. 18 

Medina in Malik's time was far from the booming trade and imperial 
politics of Kufa, Basra and Baghdad. Its quiet date groves hummed with 


the calm of a home whose occupants had moved on to a wider world. 
There, in 'The City of the Messenger of God,' another approach to for- 
mulating Islamic law and belief was developing contemporaneous to that 
of Abu Hanifa. Malik had grown up in Medina and learned from its most 
esteemed scholars like Nafi', a learned servant of a famous Companion of 
the Prophet, and the early Hadith collector Zuhri, who had actually met 
some of the more longevous Companions. Malik collected the Hadiths 
transmitted from the Prophet in the city as well as the legal and doctrinal 
opinions of Companions like Umar bin Khattab, the second caliph. Leaning 
against a column of the Prophet's own mosque, only yards from where the 
Prophet himself was buried, Malik sorted through this material, organized 
it by topic and recorded it in his Muwatta, the earliest surviving book of 
Hadiths and Islamic law. Consisting of approximately 1,800 reports, 527 
are Hadiths of the Prophet, 613 are rulings made by Companions, 285 are 
the rulings of Successors and the remainder are Malik's own opinions. The 
book covers wide areas of Muslim life, from performing one's ablutions for 
prayer to irrigation law, from Hadiths affirming God's complete control 
over man's destiny to Hadiths describing Hellfire. 

Unlike the cosmopolitan soup of Kufa, Malik saw Medina as the bastion 
of the pure Islam the Prophet had originally taught. He believed that 
the customs and practices of Medina's scholars were the true vehicle of 
the Sunna and a peerless guide to how to live as a Muslim. The strange 
Hadiths circulating in Damascus or Egypt seemed suspicious to Malik, 
and in some cases even Hadiths he heard from his own teacher, Nafi , 
who had heard them from the caliph Umar's son, who had heard them 
from the Prophet, were not definitive for him. One such Hadith quoted 
the Prophet telling Muslims that a buyer and seller can rescind or cancel 
a transaction up until they part company. But this was not the practice 
of the people and scholars of Medina, for whom a sale became final once 
the two parties verbally agreed on it. Because the Hadith was 'not acted 
upon' in Medina, Malik and his students did not accept it as defining the 
Prophet's teachings. 19 

In a use of reason similar to Abu Hanifa's Istihsan, Malik pioneered a 
mode of thinking about laws that became known as 'blocking the means 
Uadd al-dharai). This prohibited something otherwise legal because it 
was a slippery slope to a known evil or prohibited result. 

The Qur'an forbade Muslims from engaging in Riba, which Muslim 
scholars understood as any kind of interest-bearing transaction such as 


loans in business. The Qur'an explicitly condemns excessive usury as 
exploitative to the poor, but Shah Wali Allah explained that Islamic law 
considered even mild interest harmful. It prevents people from focusing 
on agriculture and manufacture, 'the roots of profit,' he claimed. 20 

Even in the early Islamic period, however, Muslims lending money 
felt that charging interest was as essential a part of business activity as it is 
today (at the very least, it represents the opportunity cost of the lender's 
money - what he could accomplish with it were it available and not with 
the borrower). Muslim scholars thus developed what became known as 
'the double sale,' in which the borrower approaches a lender with an offer 
to buy some item from him, for example, a bolt of cloth, for some cost, 
such as 100 gold pieces. Since the buyer (i.e., the borrower) does not have 
that sum available at the time, he agrees with the seller (i.e., the lender) 
to pay him 125 gold pieces in a year's time - buying the cloth on credit 
and paying a premium for receiving it right away (credit purchases were 
allowed by the Prophet and were essential in activities like farming in 
which revenues come only at harvest time). In theory, the borrower can 
keep the cloth or sell it to whomever he wants for whatever sum he wishes. 
But the lender 'offers' to simplify matters by taking the bolt of cloth off 
the borrower's hands right away for its actual value of 100 gold pieces. The 
borrower/buyer agrees and thus departs with 100 gold pieces in his hands 
and a duty to pay the lender /seller back 125 gold pieces in one year's time. 
An interest-bearing loan has been accomplished. 

Since buying on credit with a premium was permitted by the Prophet, 
and since it was permitted for parties who had completed one transaction 
to engage in a second one whenever they wanted, there was no technical 
reason to ban this 'double sale.' Neither the first nor the second sale on its 
own was prohibited, nor was combining them. Just as a merchant is not 
forbidden from selling a knife to a customer simply because the customer 
might intend to murder someone with it, the majority of Muslim jurists 
looked at the legality of each act and not the possible future intentions of 
the actor. The 'double sale' soon became widely allowed and practiced. 
In fact, it ultimately became the basis of modern Islamic finance, which 
accomplishes the same process through almost instantaneous platinum 
transactions arranged by the bank lender. 21 But when Malik looked at the 
'double sale,' he saw only a clear plan to violate the spirit of God's law. The 
'double sale' was a means to precisely the interest-bearing loan that God 
and the Prophet had forbidden, and Malik prohibited it. 22 



Seven hundred years before Shah Wali Allah's time, a renowned Muslim 
scientist named Biruni was dragooned into the service of Mahmud of 
Ghazna, the first of the Turkic warlords who came to plunder North India's 
riches. Mahmud's army, Biruni recounted with sadness, 'destroyed the 
verdant land and scattered the Hindus to the wind and memory.' Biruni 
took advantage of his conscription to learn Sanskrit and translated books 
of Indian theology and astronomy into Arabic. He recorded the strange and 
incredible peoples, places and mores he encountered during his stay among 
the Hindus. Many of his observations, he knew, would defy his readers' 
belief. As a devotee of Aristotle and the Greek sciences, Biruni knew that 
'hearing reports of something is not like seeing it directly.' Unlike sense 
perception, the fragments of data and impressions one hears from other 
people rarely if ever convey certainty. But as a follower of Muhammad, 
Biruni also knew that nothing of his religion, born in time and carried 
down through the years in text and tradition, could ever survive without 
relying on the testimony of earlier generations and 'the immortal tracings 
of the pen.' Shah Wali Allah could only echo his predecessor. Anything 
you know that came from someone else, he wrote, must have come via 
some medium out of the past. 23 

Shah Wali Allah understood that inheriting the teachings of the 
Messenger of God meant handling sacred knowledge that originated in 
the realm of the unseen. He offered his audience some striking examples. 
'On the Day of Judgment the Earthly World will be brought forth in the 
form of an old woman, black-and-white of hair, blue-eyed and teeth bared, 
hideous in form,' read one Hadith. 'God will bringyou into the Gardens of 
Heaven, and you need do no more than wish it, and you'll be carried on a 
ruby steed, who will fly with you wherever you desire,' read another. No 
doubt profound meaning lay veiled in metaphor behind these words of 
the Prophet as he described the Afterlife, and Shah Wali Allah knew the 
great controversies that had swirled around such uncanny Hadiths. But 
he also knew the fundamental position of Sunni Islam: one must affirm 
the truth spoken by the Messenger of God. 24 

Early Christian opponents of Islam had pounced on such beliefs. 
*We put no faith in such silly tales,' the Byzantine Emperor Leo III had 
written in a letter, mocking the Muslims' belief in a Heaven full of carnal 


delights sch as perpetual virgins and rivers of milk and honey. How 
could Mudms trust any tenets of their faith, he asked, when they so often \ 
relied on iiere tenuous attributions to Muhammad? 25 This letter, part of 
an excharje with the Umayyad Caliph Umar bin 'Abd al-'Aziz around 
the year 20, illustrates the centrality of the question of epistemology, 
or how ari from where we attain knowledge. The great challenge of the 
Muslim ulma was to answer the questions: 'How do we know God?' and 
"What is lght and wrong in God's eyes?' Now, as the ruling class of an 
expansivetslamic empire, they had to justify the sources of their sacred 
knowledg to outsiders and substantiate their answers to a broader and 
more contested audience. 

The Qr'an had encouraged Muhammad and his followers to use 
their reas<n, to scan the heavens and appreciate the ordered infinity of 
God's creiion. But the Qur'an also cautioned against trusting too much 
in reason vhen pondering matters of the unseen, for the Devil is forever 
urging ma. to 'say about God that which you do not know' (2:169). Reason 
and ratiornlization offered a deceptive and alluring window for indulging 
one's ownfancies and desires. This had been the bane of earlier peoples 
gifted wit] prophecy by God. Overconfident in their own speculations 
about the lature of God and His law, they ignored the revealed books sent 
down to ttem. The Qur'an warned Muslims, Tf you heed most of those in 
the world,they will lead you astray from God's path. They do but follow 
suppositici, they do but conjecture' (6:116). Belief, prayer and practice 
must be biilt on firm instructions revealed by God. All else is too subject 
to abidingliuman whims and interests. 

This prsented a quandary. The Qur'an had been preserved unaltered 
since the teath of the Prophet, the foundation of Muslim faith and prac- 
tice.* But nis foundation did not provide all the answers to theological 
questions »r the necessary details for basic rituals and laws. These could 
be found h plenty in the teachings attributed to Muhammad, but the 
Hadiths imndating the garrison cities of the Near East were very often 
totally male up, frequently deserving of suspicion and at best transmit- 
ted from tie Prophet by a fraction of that great plurality of Muslims who 
memorizel the Qur'an by heart. If the Qur'an warned Muslims against 
following nere supposition, and if 'supposition can never take the place 

* The majority of Western scholars also affirm the Quran's date of origin and overall 
textual integity. SeeBehnam Sadeghi andMohsen Goudarzi, 'San'a' 1 and the Origins 
of the Qur'at.' 


of truth' (53:28), how could Muslims 'know' anything about God or their 
duties to Him from a source as questionable as the Hadiths? 

Furthermore, at the very moment at which Muslims were reminded 
to cling tightly to God's authentic revelation and avoid outside influences, 
they were confronted with the stunning diversity of the Near Eastern 
philosophical heritage. The Muslim ruling class found itself face to face 
with the logic of Aristotle, the cosmology of Plotinus and the theologies 
of Christianity and Zoroastrianism. The challenges raised by polemics like 
Leo Ill's letter were but early salvos in an embattling barrage. 

In Baghdad and Basra particularly, a group of Muslim scholars arose 
to confront these other systems and came to be known by the general 
moniker of the Mutazila. By wading into interfaith debates, however, these 
Muslim intellectuals implicitly accepted the terms of their opponents. As 
a result, they were permanently affected by their opponents' methods and 
philosophical assumptions. 

To defend Islam in this environment, the Mutazila school of thought 
based its understanding of Islam on sources that it felt could stand up to 
the skepticism of internal and external critics: the Qur'an, reports about 
the Prophet that were universally agreed upon, other items of complete 
consensus among Muslims and, finally, the proofs of reason. 26 This species 
of reason, though, was not the common sense of a Bedouin pondering the 
night sky. It was the regimented and logical reasoning of the Aristotelian 
heritage, thought to be able to reveal profound truths and unmask false- 
hood without recourse to religion at all. 

The Mutazila first had to develop a suitable vision of theology. The 
Qur'an magnified God as 'glorified above all ascribed to Him' (37: 180) and 
as totally beyond our mental conception. Indeed, the most central theme 
in the revelation to Muhammad is God's Tawhid, His absolute and tran- 
scendental unity. But the holy book also described God in terms humans 
could understand. He is seated on a throne 'above the heavens and the 
earth.' He speaks to prophets, is 'closer to man than his own jugular vein' 
and will come before us on the Day of Judgment among ranks of angels. 

This presented a serious problem for the Muslim rationalists. As the 
Latin Christian philosopher and devotee of Aristotle, Boethius (d. 525), 
and later Maimonides (d. 1204), Aristotle's greatest Jewish champion, 
both observed, 'there cannot be any belief in the unity of God except 
by admitting that He is one simple substance without any composition 
or plurality of elements.' 27 In the Greek philosophical tradition, to be in 


any location, like on a throne, above anything or closer to something 
than something else, a thing must be bounded within a certain space. In 
other words, it must be a body. A body must exist in a space greater than 
it - it thus cannot be the creator of all space. Furthermore, an entity that 
consists of any composite elements, like an entity possessing a 'hand' or 
even 'speech,' needs a greater power to assemble it and thus cannot be the 
greatest or only eternal entity. Finally, motion entails change for Aristotle, 
and in his view nothing that changes can be eternal. 

Plato's conception of the ultimate source of all creation was "The Good,' 
one and unknowable. Aristotle understood the notion of God as changeless, 
pure reason, which generated the cosmos but is removed from its flawed 
particulars. Immersed in the Hellenistic heritage, the Mutazila conceived 
of God as simple, unified, distant and eminently just. His justice made Him 
subject to reason. He could only ask of humans what was fair, and man 
could grasp the objective realities of right and wrong with his mind. Man 
had to have free will, the Mutazila argued, because if man were not able to 
choose between right and wrong God would be punishing or rewarding 
him for something outside his control. 28 

The Mutazila's epistemology and theology shaped the way they under- 
stood the Islamic scriptures. The God of Abraham was far too personal and 
tempestuous for Hellenistic philosophers. Not surprisingly, the Mutazila 
thus read the seemingly anthropomorphic verses of the Qur 'an figuratively. 
God's coming in ranks of angels was thus not to be taken literally. It was 
only a figurative allusion to the signs of His power. 29 

While their fundamental commitment to the truth of the Qur 'an obliged 
the Mutazila scholars to negotiate such problematic verses, they had no 
such duty with Hadiths. For them, any Hadith that they saw as contradict- 
ing the Qur'an or reason had to be rejected outright as a forgery. One such 
Hadith quotes the Prophet as revealing how 'God descends to the lowest 
heavens in the last third of the night.' From there He grants the wishes of 
those who remain awake in prayer. The Mutazila rejected this as absurd 
because it entailed God moving and thus being a body subject to change. 
In another Hadith, the Prophet recounts how Moses confronted Adam in 
Heaven, rebuking him for robbing all his future descendants of life in the 
Garden of Eden. Adam replied that Moses, as a prophet of God, should 
know that it is not fair to blame him for something that God had ordained. 
'So Adam bested Moses in the argument.' 30 This was preposterous and 
could never have been taught by Muhammad, the Mutazila asserted, 


because man has free will and cannot escape blame by claiming that some 
act 'was written.' 


'0 Commander of the Believers, do not do it!' Malik had once pleaded with 
the Abbasid caliph. The ruler had proposed making Malik's Muwatta' the 
basis for an empire- wide code of Shariah law. But the scholar of Medina 
explained that each region of that realm had forged its own path for God's 
law, and this diversity could not realistically be undone. 

Shah Wali Allah appreciated this story, and he used it in his writings to 
demonstrate how the world of Islam in the eighth century was a very local- 
ized one. Abu Hanifa only left Kufa to make his pilgrimage to Mecca, and 
Malik only left Medina to visit nearby Mecca as well. Despite the expansive 
diversity of the Muslim empire, its scholars clung to the parochial spaces of 
their own cities. When a certain view on law became established in an area, 
scholars there 'clung onto it by their teeth,' Shah Wali Allah remarked. 31 

Malik's most famous student, however, was a very different creature 
and a symbol of an interconnected new day. Muhammad bin Idris Shafi'i 
was born in Gaza, studied for many years with Malik in Medina, served as 
the Abbasid governor in the Yemeni city of Najran, traveled to Baghdad to 
study with Abu Hanifa's acolyte Shaybani and others and ended his days 
settled in Egypt. His travels showed Shafi'i how isolated and idiosyncratic 
the local schools of Islam really were. 

Oddly, despite this undeniable multivocality, in debates over law and 
dogma consensus {Ijma) was the most powerful proof that Muslim scholars 
could invoke. Quoting an early Muslim scholar, Shah Wali Allah explained 
how, when the 'leading and best of the people' came to a consensus on an 
issue of law or dogma not specified in scripture, that opinion carried the 
day. 32 But often both sides in a scholarly dispute claimed consensus, as 
occurred in contentious correspondences between Abu Hanifa's student 
Abu Yusuf and Awza'i, the leading scholar of Beirut. 33 Aware of these 
absurdities, Shafi'i rejected most claims of consensus as fanciful, though 
be affirmed the soundness of the concept. Only the most basic, core ele- 
ments of Muslim faith and practice were in fact agreed upon by all, such 
as the five daily prayers or the prohibition on wine - 'the roots of sacred 
knowledge, not its branches,' he explained. 34 


In light of this disagreement, what could provide a thread of unity for 
the scholars' interpretive efforts and serve as a common standard of proof ? 
Shah Wali Allah explained that Shafi'i 'took law from the source.' The 
answer was to return to the Hadiths of the Prophet. 35 All the regions and 
varied scholars believed firmly that they were adhering to the Prophet's 
Sunna in the sense of his overall precedent. But they had different notions 
of how that Sunna was understood and proven. For Abu Hanifa it was 
through the strong, established Hadiths available in Kufa, then through the 
teachings of the Companions who had settled there. Although he carefully 
collected Hadiths, for Malik there was no better record of the Sunna than 
the practice of the people in Muhammad's own town. 

But, as Shafi'i had pointed out, all these supposedly accurate under- 
standings of the Sunna disagreed with each other. He believed that only by 
obeying stricdy the actual words of the Prophet as transmitted in Hadiths 
could a true and unified vision of the Sunna triumph. This was the mantra 
of a dynamic but highly conservative new group with which Shafi'i identi- 
fied. Calling themselves the Ahlal- Sunna wa'l-Jama'a, "The People of the 
Sunna and the Collective,' their vision of the faith would become known 
by the abbreviated name of Sunni Islam. 

Shafi'i threw himself into arguments not only with other students of 
Malik and the disciples of Abu Hanifa but also with the Mutazila. His aim 
was to raise the Hadiths to the role of the primary lens for understanding 
the Qur'anic message. Shafi'i criticized the Kufans for following analogical 
reasoning when they should heed the words of the Prophet first and fore- 
most. The notion oilstihsan, he decried, was tantamount to an assumption 
Aat God had not provided clear guidance on an issue. He further attacked 
their principle that no Hadiths other than those considered eminently 
reliable by Abu Hanifa's circle could be used to govern the interpretation 
of Qur'anic verses. 

The Mutazila bore the brunt of Shafi'i's campaign. For Shafi'i, their 
skepticism about Hadiths was heretical. In debates, the Mutazila asked 
him how he could put mere reports transmitted 'from so-and-so, from 
so-and-so' on the same level as the Qur'an. Some even rejected the idea 
that anything other than the Qur'an and reason be used as a basis for law 
at all. They based this on the Qur'anic verse in which the book described 
itself as 'an elucidation of all things.' Shafi'i responded that the Qur'an, 
in fact, ordered Muslims to obey the Prophet. After his passing from the 
World, the only way now to know his teachings was through reports of 


his words and deeds. If Shafi'i's opponents claimed that they could derive 
the full range of Islamic law and doctrine from the Qur'an alone, he asked, 
then how did they know how to pray or fast? Neither is described in any 
detail in the Qur'an. There must be some source for God's instructions to 
man outside the pages of the Qur'an by which these details were known, 
and Shafi'i argued that this source was the Hadiths. 36 

The Mutazila opponents of this argument were pious and learned 
Muslims, however, and they countered that core Islamic practices like 
prayer were indeed drawn from outside the Qur'an - from the living tradi- 
tion of the Muslim community, which handed down these sacred customs 
generation after generation by consensus. This did not mean that Muslims 
should heed individual Hadiths on every particularity of the Shar;ah. 

Shafi'i admitted that making Hadiths the primary source for the minu- 
tiae of a law covering everything from sales to marriage and divorce would 
mean relying on a source less certain than the Qur'an or living tradition. 
But the Prophet had sent individual Companions to distant settlements 
to teach Islam to their inhabitants, and these communities had relied on 
these solitary sources. If one could achieve confidence in the authenticity 
of a report from the Prophet, then was it not better to follow the Prophet 
than one's own fallible reason? 

The new epistemology and interpretive method proposed by Shafi'i 
and the early Sunnis inverted that of the Kufans and Mutazila. The Qur'an 
was notthe most powerful source for understanding the Islamic message. 
Certainly, it was the word of God and thus peerless in its ontological stand- 
ing. But, as Shah Wali Allah explained, early Sunnis held that 'The Sunna 
rules over the Bookof God, the Bookof God does not rule overthe Sunna.' 37 
The Qur'an and the Sunna functioned in tandem. Like a locked door 
without a key, the Qur'an could not be accessed without the Sunna. The 
Qur'an contained the totality of God's message, but the Sunna explained, 
adjusted and added to it in order to convey God's complete guidance. 

Hadiths of the Prophet could specify and restrict the Qur'an, as in the 
case of punishing a thief. They could also explain vague Qur'anic com- 
mands, for example, by detailing the specific motions and words that make 
up the Muslim prayer. Hadiths could also add new rules onto those already 
mentioned in the holy book. The Qur'an forbids men from marrying their 
mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, aunts or mothers-in-law (with corre- 
sponding prohibitions for women), adding 'And other than that has been 
permitted for you' (4:23-24). Hadiths add that a man cannot take both a 


woman and her aunt as co-wives. 38 For the early Sunnis, there could be no 
contradiction between a Hadith authentically transmitted from the Prophet 
and the Qur'an. They were two halves of the same revelation. The Hadiths 
were just explicating the true meaning of the holy book. 

Shah Wali Allah explained how Shafi'i's vision of law erased regional 
boundaries and built on a common body of Hadiths, Companion rulings 
and regimented reasoning. Finding the answer to a new question about 
how to act or adjudicate would begin with consulting the verses of the 
Qur'an and reliable Hadiths together. The local practice of Medina or 
the teachings of Kufa had no weight. If nothing in the Qur'an, Hadiths 
or universally agreed-upon positions among the early Muslims could be 
found to address the question, then the scholar could search for a ruling 
by a leading Companion or use strict analogical reasoning based on a 
Qur'anic verse or Hadith. 

Shafi'i's use of reason in deriving law was more restricted than Abu 
Hanifa's broad Istihsan. In particular, he favored a form of analogy known 
as 'manifest analogy' (qiyasjali: in the Western intellectual tradition, a 
fortiori or 'by the stronger' reasoning). Here, the presence of some factor 
in mild or moderate form in one case entails that another case where it 
exists in extreme form would share the same ruling. Shafi'i's followers 
used this approach in the question of whether women could lead men in 
congregational prayers. No Hadith of any reliability dealt with this subject, 
nor had the Companions formalized an explicit rule. Hadiths did explain, 
however, that in congregations of men and women, the women lined up 
behind the men to pray Since women could not be in the same rows as 
men, a fortiori they could not be in front of them leading the prayer. 39 

Shafi'i and his followers also innovated a new interpretive method for 
deriving rules from scripture. Known as 'Negatively Implied Meaning' 
(mafhum al-mukhalafa), it held that if the Qur'an or Hadiths made a 
positive statement about a thing, then the negative held true for all else. 
For example, the Qur'an encourages those agreeing on a loan to set down 
their agreement in writing and to 'take two witnesses from among your 
men or, if there are not two men, then one man and two women.' If one 
of the two women became confused, the Qur'an explains, the other could 
remind her (4:282). Because the Qur'an specifies women as possible wit- 
nesses in the case of financial matters, Shafi'i concluded these were the 
only cases in which women could serve as witnesses in court. According 
to Negatively Implied Meaning, ordering Muslims to take women in one 


situation meant forbidding them in all others (with the exception of cases 
of necessity, such as exclusively female domains, for example, witnessing 
childbirth). Abu Hanifa, on the other hand, did not accept Negatively 
Implied Meaning. He allowed female witnesses in all areas of law except 
some cases of capital or severe corporal punishment, which he disallowed 
based on a Kufan consensus against this. 40 

Although a main pillar of Shafi'i's legal methodology was the rejection 
of custom or local practice as a constitutive source of law, this did not 
mean that he or his followers denied any elasticity in the Shariah. Along 
with Abu Hanifa, Malik and all luminaries of law, Shafi'i acknowledged 
that local custom ('urf) tailored the edges and contact surfaces of Islamic 
lawin any particular locale. Shafi'i, for example, followed the above-noted 
prophetic Hadith that a buyer and seller had the right to annul a sale 'until 
they had parted company.' But what does 'parting company' mean? When 
the seller leaves the buyer's stall? When they both leave the market at the 
end of the day? The definition of parting company was left up to local 
custom to decide. 


The coalescing of the 'People ofthe Sunna andthe Collective' in the time of 
Shafi'i saved Islam from oblivion. So Sunnis like Shah Wali Allah believed. 
Christians, Jews and misguided Muslims like the Mutazila had all believed 
in God's revelations, but they had strayed from the pure teachings and 
clear precedent of His prophets. In reminding his readers of this point, 
Shah Wali Allah drew on the well-stocked Sunni arsenal of anti-Mutazila 
evidence. A Hadith portrayed the Prophet predicting the Mutazila fault 
with tailored exactness, damning their dismissal of Hadiths with more 
than a hint of scorn for their elitism: 'It's as if there's a man, his stomach 
foil, lounging on his couch and saying, "Stick with the Qur'an. What you 
find licit in it, consider it permitted. And what you find prohibited in it, 
consider it prohibited.'" 'But what God's Messenger has forbidden,' the 
Prophet adds as a rejoinder in the Hadith, 'it is as if God has forbidden it. 

Shafi'i had brought up this Hadith no fewer than three times in just 
one of his debates with the Mutazila. 42 Yet for all his disdain for his oppo- 
nents, it was not intellectual elitism that made the Mutazila suspicious of 
Hadiths. It was the problem of rampant Hadith forgery, and their objection 


was valid. If Muslims were really to set aside reason and local custom and 
instead derive the details of a comprehensive legal and ritual system from 
a myriad of Hadiths, how could they tell if a Hadith was really the words 
of the Prophet? 

The answer given by Sunnis like Shafi'i would define Sunni Islam and 
become its hallmark. The Isnad, or chain of transmission, would be used 
to verify Hadiths and guarantee the authenticity of sacred knowledge. 
Muslims need not accept Hadiths blindly. In fact, they should not accept 
any instruction or claim uncritically. Rather, they only had to obey a 
Hadith if they found an Isnad demonstrating that it had been transmitted 
reliably from the Prophet. 'The Isnad is part of the religion,' proclaimed 
a Sunni contemporary of Shafi'i. Tf not for the Isnad, whoever wanted 
could say whatever they wanted.' Another early Sunni wrote that pre- 
serving unbroken chains of transmission for their scriptures and sacred 
knowledge was what set Muslims apart from followers of other religions. 
Shah Wali Allah devoted a whole book to celebrating this. Tf the Isnad 
had not been a basic principle,' he wrote of Islam, 'then the Shariah would 
not have survived.' 43 

In order to determine if an Isnad was reliable, Shafi'i proposed a critical 
method that had been developed by a network of ulama in Mecca, Medina, 
Iraq and northeastern Iran, all of whom specialized in Hadiths. Among 
them was Shafi'i's own teacher, Malik. Although not himself an important 
contributor to this science of transmission criticism, Shafi'i gives a useful 
summary of its methods. Tf a trustworthy person transmits [a Hadith] 
from another trustworthy person until the chain ends with the Messenger 
of God, then itis established as being from the Messenger of God.' 44 To be 
trustworthy, Shafi'i explains, a Muslim had to be well known as honest, 
transmit a Hadith they had heard exactly as they heard it and be clear about 
the source from whom they heard it. 

More importantly, the Hadiths that this person recounted to others had 
to be corroborated by what other respected Hadith scholars also transmit- 
ted. If this person narrated Hadiths that broke with what others narrated, 
he or she could not be trusted. A chain of these reliable transmitters, each 
reporting the Hadith from their teacher, et cetera, had to extend unbroken 
to the Prophet himself. During Shafi'i's time, these chains usually stretched 
from three to five or six people back to Muhammad. A break in the chain, 
like a person not remembering who told them the Hadith or quoting a 
person they had never met, made the Hadith unreliable. 45 


A Hadith that met these requirements was considered 'sound' (sohih). 
If it was widely transmitted through many circles of Hadith scholars, then 
it was also deemed 'well known' (mashhur) . A Hadith with some flaw in its 
chain of transmission was termed 'weak' {da'if). It was the strength of the 
Isnad chain that determined if a Hadith should be heeded, since it meant 
that the Hadith had been authenticated as the words of the Prophet. The 
Hadith 'Deeds are determined by intentions' may have been only transmit- 
ted by limited Isnads, but those Isnads were reliable, concluded Shafi'i. 
Unlike the followers of Abu Hanifa, then, Shafi'i felt compelled to accept 
this Hadith as binding. One of his close colleagues in Baghdad, in fact, once 
said that this Hadith should be included in every chapter of lawbooks. 46 
In his discussion of the collection and criticism of Hadiths, Shah Wali 
Allah explains the crucial fact that, like law and theology, Hadith trans- 
mission and study had remained localized until Shafi'i's time in the late 
700s. Abu Hanifa and his followers in Kufa had thus allowed Muslims to 
consume non-intoxicating amounts of alcoholic beverages other than the 
grape wine, Khamr, forbidden in the Qur'an (drunkenness itself they for- 
bade by Qiyas and due to a sound Hadith stating that intoxication from any 
drink is prohibited) , 47 They had never heard the Hadiths, widely circulated 
elsewhere, that 'Every intoxicant is forbidden,' and 'Whatever intoxicates 
in great quantities, small quantities of it are forbidden.' 

During Shafi'i's generation, scholars had begun traveling more widely. In 
what became known as 'Travel in the quest for sacred knowledge,' Muslims 
devoted to collecting the Prophet's word plied the dusty roads of Iran and 
Arabia in search of Hadiths. One of Shafi'i's students in Baghdad traveled 
to Damascus, Basra and Kufa to study with ulama and hear Hadiths. tie 
even ventured as far as the terraced green mountains of Yemen to study 
with the great Hadith masters of the trade entrepot of Sanaa. Named 
Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, this scholar compiled his Hadiths into a great collec- 
tion known as the Musnad and became one of the most archetypal and 
revered figures in Sunni Islam. 


Shah Wali Allah arrived in Mecca in the fall of 1730, several months before 
the start of the annual Hajj . It was normal for scholars to spend months or 


even years living there in studious retreat as 'neighbors' of the House of 
God. When the sacred days of Hajj arrived, the Indian wrapped himselfSin 
the two plain white cloths that signified the sanctified status of a pilgrim 
and made his way with thousands of others toward the massive stone cube, 
draped in black cloth, towering at the center of the Haram Mosque. Each 
pilgrim repeated over and over Abraham's call, 'I heed your call, 0 God I 
heed your call! I heed your call, 0 You without partner, I heed your call! 
All praise and blessings are yours, and all dominion. You have no partner!' 
The Kaaba was the sole destination of the pilgrims, the anchor of the 
rocky ravines of Mecca and the axis of the Muslim cosmos. Following the 
Abrahamic ritual that Muhammad had taught his followers, the wheeling 
throng circumambulated the Kaaba seven times. The persistent among 
them tried to press through the crowd toward the Kaaba and kiss the 
smooth Black Stone embedded in one of its corners. This was not required 
of the pilgrims, but as Shah Wali Allah wrote in his own instructions on 
Hajj, it was done 'out of imitation of the Prophet.' 4 * Indeed, one of the 
Hadiths that Ibn Hanbal had included in his Musnad quoted the Caliph 
Umar's words as he had approached the Black Stone: 'I know you are but 
a stone that cannot hurt or help, and if I had not seen the Messenger of 
God kiss you I would not kiss you.' 49 

The preference for relying on Hadiths over rational devices such as 
Istihsan was a hallmark of the emergent Sunni school as a whole. More 
than any other sect, it took to heart the Qur'anic warning against an over- 
reliance on man's frail reason in understanding God and morality. As one 
of Ibn Hanbal's contemporary admirers in Baghdad wrote in defense of 
the Sunni creed: 

We do not resort except to that to which the Messenger of God, 
may God's peace and blessings be upon him, resorted. And we do 
not reject what has been transmitted authentically from him merely 
because it does not accord with our conjectures or seem correct to 
reason... we hope that in this lies the path to salvation and escape 
from the baseless whims of heresy. 50 

It is not surprising that the method the Sunni scholars used for sorting 
sound from forged Hadiths made no mention of examining the meaningot 
the Hadith in question. Both the followers of Abu Hanifa and the theologi- 
cal school of the Mutazila (many followers of Abu Hanifa's school, in fact, 


subscribed to Mutazila theology) had used the Quran, the consensus of the 
Muslims and reason as criteria for determining if a Hadith was authentic 
or a forgery attributed to the Prophet. Its contents had to be tested against 
these criteria. If a Hadith contradicted any of them, it could not be true. It 
had to be a forgery regardless of who was claiming the Prophet had said it. 

For the nascent Sunnis, this was outright heresy. First of all, this propo- 
sition opposed their vision of how the two scriptures of Islam functioned: 
Hadiths, as the units that composed the Sunna, explained and added to 
the Qur'an. What seemed to be contradicting the Qur'an might really be 
explaining its true meaning, as was the case with the Hadith informing 
men that they could not marry a woman and her aunt at the same time. 
Second, human reason, with its limited understanding of reality and its 
inability to grasp God's power and truth, was not fit to act as a litmus test 
for the wisdom of a prophet. As Shah Wali Allah remarke d, when it comes 
to knowing what is best the Messenger of God is 'more trustworthy than 

our own reason.' 11 

The Sunni solution to the problem of authenticating Hadiths was to try 
and remove reason from the process, focusing on tracing and evaluating 
their chains of transmission instead of examining their contents. Sunni 
Hadith scholars researched and compiled volume after volume, with 
titles like The Book of Reliable Transmitters and The Great Book of Weak 
. Transmitters, which listed entries on Hadith transmitters. Each identified 
the transmitter's teachers, students and the evidence for his or her reli- 
ability or lack thereof. 

Reason could never be totally excluded, however. Biases and sensi- 
tivities cannot be shut off. Sunni Hadith critics could not help pausing 
at reports that seemed to them to be impossible, outrageous or contrary 
to what they considered the established teachings of the Prophet. But 
unlike rationalists, the Sunni Hadith critics did not consider examining 
the meaning of Hadiths to be an independent avenue of criticism. It was 
only a subsidiary of critiquing Jfluafe. A glaring problem in the meaning ot 
a Hadith was only a symptom of a diseased, flawed chain of transmission. 
Perhaps a less than stellar transmitter in the Isnad, or a lapse of memory 
from a reliable person, had allowed the mistake to slip through. The critic 
only had to find the crack. 

On rare occasions, we find glimpses of the wheels of reason turning 
behind the pages of Sunni Hadith-transmitter criticism. The most famous 
of all Sunni Hadith scholars, Bukhar i, listed as evidence of one transmitter s 


unreliability a Hadith he had narrated in which the Prophet purportedly 
warned, "The signs of the Day of Judgment will appear after two hundred 
years.' This could not be true, Bukhari observed, since those two hundred 
years had passed without incident. 52 

It makes sense that such remarks were rare. Admitting that the door 
to man's frail reason could not be closed completely would mean that 
the Sunnis' claim to preserving the Prophet's true teachings might still 
be colored by subjectivity. Bukhari might well have concluded that after 
two hundred years' could mean after two hundred and fifty years or five 
hundred years. These meanings would pose no problem for the Hadith's 
authenticity. Even in later centuries, when Sunni scholars tried to set up 
rules regimenting criticism of the meanings of Hadiths, they could never 
overcome the simple fact that what one person considers unreasonable 
another finds sensible. 53 

In their extensive travels in the quest for Hadiths, scholars like Ibn 
Hanbal collected thousands and thousands of reports attributed to the 
Prophet. Sometimes they might collect a dozen or even several dozen 
transmissions of the same statement, its chains of transmission intertwin- 
ing and converging through a web of pious ancestors back to Muhammad 
(the Musnad contains seven transmissions alone of the Hadith of Umar 
kissing the Black Stone). These would all be analyzed and compared with 
one another to determine their individual and collective soundness. Ibn 
Hanbal's Musnad contained some 27,700 transmissions, roughly a quarter 
of which were repeated versions of Hadiths. 54 He sifted these from around 
750,000 transmissions he had come across in his travels. 

Although Ibn Hanbal acknowledged that there were many Hadiths 
in his Musnad that suffered from some flaw or weakness in their Isnads, 
he felt they were all admissible in elaborating some area of the Shariah.' 
He explained that, as long as a Hadith was supported by an Isnad reliable 
enough to show it was not a patent forgery, 'then one was required to 
accept it and act according to the Prophet's words.' 'A flawed Hadith is 
preferable to me than a scholar's opinion or Qiyas,' he added. 55 Muslims 
were, Ibn Hanbal reminded his students, commanded to take their religion 
from on high and not rely on the flawed faculty of reason. 

Ibn Hanbal's legal opinions thus built on the vast corpus of Hadiths 
he had amassed, seeking to flesh out every detail of law with a prophetic 
precedent. His acceptance of dubious Hadiths led to unique legal rulings. 
All other ularna held that Muslims must convene their communal Friday 


prayer during the time period allowed for the daily noon prayer (begin- 
ning when the sun passes its zenith and en ding when shadows are the same 
length as the objects casting them). Ibn Hanbal, however, allowed Friday 
prayer to be held as early as mid-morning due to an unreliable Hadith to 
that effect (today, Ibn Hanbal's opinion is used to allow Muslims in the 
West more flexibility in scheduling Friday prayers). 56 

Ibn Hanbal's strict adherence to Hadiths did not mean that he disre- 
garded the use of reason altogether in law. He used Qiyas if there were 
absolutely no other grounds for arriving at a ruling. When Muslims die, 
for example, their bodies are brought enshrouded to the mosque, where 
they are placed in front of the congregation and a short funeral prayer is 
performed. But what if more than one body is brought, such as the body of 
a woman and a man? There were not even any weakHadiths'or Companion 
rulings in this situation, so Ibn Hanbal concluded by analogy that the bodies 
were placed in the same order as people follow when lining up to pray. 57 
The early Sunni view of the proper relation between reason and revela- 
tion had its greatest impact on the understanding of theology. If reason was 
not fit to play a constitutive role in determining right and wrong in law, it 
certainly had no place in informing our understanding of God's nature and 
the ultimate reality of the heavens and the earth. Rational presuppositions 
about what was and was not acceptable for the proper conception of God 
had led the Mutazila to introduce figurative readings of anthropomorphic 
Qur'an verses and to reject wholesale Hadiths describing God in physical 
or familiar terms. The early Sunnis opposed this wholeheartedly. To convey 
this point, Shah Wali Allah quotes the writings of a famous Sunni Hadith 
collector named after his native city of Tirmidh, which today sits perched 
overlooking the winding Oxus River between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. 
Abu Isa Tirmidhi explained that true scholars knew that Hadiths 'dealing 
with God's attributes and the Lord most high's descending every night to 
the lowest heavens, these narrations have been established and are to be 
believed.' Sunni ulama must teach 'that one should not fall into error con- 
cerning such Hadiths or say "How could this be?"' The correct approach to 
such Hadiths, wrote Tirmidhi, is to 'take them as is without asking how. 

For the Sunni school of thought, God 'established Himself on the 
throne,' and one could point upward to where He ruled 'above the heavens 
and the earth,' as the Qur'an described. Hadiths foretold how, on the Day 
of Judgment, believers would be granted a beatific vision of their Lord, 
seeingHim 'like you see the moon on the night of its fullness.' These things 


were and would be, and man could not understand how. God's hands, eyes 
and speech were real, although man could never grasp their true nature 
or description, for 'there is nothing like unto Him' (42:11). God was all- 
powerful, all-knowing and beyond our conception. Muslims should simply 
affirm what the Qur'an and the Prophet told them about God's nature and 
not plumb the depths of these questions. 

This did not mean that one could not accept explanations for Qur'anic 
verses or Hadiths. As long as they could be traced back to the Prophet 
or one of his early followers, explanations could be heeded because they 
reflected revealed teachings, not human speculation. Ironically, these often 
resembled the figurative explanations that the Mutazila arrived at through 
their philosophical lucubrations. Asked about the Qur'anic verse 'And He 
is with you wherever you are' (57:4), the Companion Ibn Abbas did not 
take it literally. He explained that this meant God is aware and cognizant 
of you wherever you are. Similarly, a Hadith describing how God 'draws 
near to the believer by an arm's length' is explained by Companions as 
referring to the nearness of His mercy as opposed to physical movement. 59 

Just as they added to the Qur'an in law, the founders of Sunni Islam 
believed that Hadiths could add new tenets of theology. Though they are 
not mentioned in the Qur'an in any obvious way, the Hadiths compiled by 
scholars like Ibn Hanbal predicted phenomena such as "The Punishment 
of the Grave.' These Hadiths described how man's Afterlife begins in the 
grave even before the resurrection on the Day of Judgment. Believers 
would find the grave peaceful and blessed, while unbelievers or sinners 
would be tortured in fearsome ways. Other Hadiths foretold the return 
of Jesus at the end of time. Along with a messianic figure descended from 
the Prophet and known as the Mahdi, he will battle the Antichrist and 
usher in a period of peace and justice before the end of the world. Literal 
belief in these Hadith-born tenets of faith became a hallmark of early 
Sunni theology, while the Mutazila dismissed them as fable or considered 
them allegorical. 60 


Delhi during Shah Wali Allah's time was far too unstable and war-torn for 
the Mughal court to justify throwing lavish, lantern-illuminated public 
festivals. But royal festivals there were nonetheless. Funds might better 


have been used bolstering the city's defenses against Afghan invaders, who 
several times during Shah Wali Allah's life sacked the city and massacred 
thousands of its inhabitants. At least this chaos spared the great scholar 
invitations to participate in palace religious debates. They might have cost 
him more than time. The Mughal emperor who had made observing such 
matches his passion had invited Hindus, Jains and even Jesuit priests to 
participate. He had little sympathy, unfortunately, for ulama he chose as 
representatives of Islam. 

The Abbasid caliphs had set the model for public debates on religion. 
At one held at the caliphal court in the 830s, a Mutazila scholar took 
on an intimidated representative of the embattled Sunnis on the issue 
of whether man brings about his own actions (the Mutazila stance) or 
whether God does (the Sunni one). When the Sunni let his arm dangle at 
the elbow and asked, 'Who is moving this?' - he expected the answer to 
be God - the Mutazila responded, 'Someone whose mother is a whore.' 
The caliph approved. 61 

For several decades in the early ninth century, the Mutazila enjoyed 
tremendous favor at the Abbasid court in Baghdad, but their power 
was not always so humorously exercised. Ibn Hanbal was tortured and 
imprisoned, and other Sunni scholars were killed for refusing to embrace 
Mutazila beliefs. In 848, this changed. The new Abbasid caliph, Mutawakkil, 
embraced Sunni beliefs. He brought the leading Sunni scholars out of 
prison and sent them to the great cathedral mosques of Baghdad. There 
they narrated Hadiths to the crowds, reciting their full Isnads back in time 
through chains of great scholars to the Messenger of God. Their Hadiths 
stressed the immediacy and closeness of God, including such prophetic 
sayings as the promise that believing Muslims would behold their Lord 
directly on the Day of Judgment. 62 The ascendancy of the 'People of the 
Sunna' brought with it the steep decline of Mutazila fortunes. By the 
eleventh century they were few in number and limited to scholarly circles 
along the Silk Road in Baghdad, Iran, the mountains of Yemen and the 
oases of Central Asia. 

The triumph of what would become the majority school of thought and 
sect in Islam was the most remarkable development in the ninth through 
the eleventh centuries. The phrase that this network of scholars used to 
refer to itself, "The People of the Sunna and the Collective,' referred to 
their belief that they alone followed the true Sunna of the Prophet and 
the united path of the Companions. Although they began as a small, 


conservative and ideologically xenophobic network of scholars obsessed 
with collecting and evaluating Hadiths, the Sunni mantra of the primacy 
of revealed text over reason would attain a paramount place among the 
populations of cities like Baghdad and would eventually draw other schools 
under its banner. 

Seated in the sprawling mosques of Baghdad, Isfahan and Samarqand, 
narrating the words of the Prophet to their enraptured audiences, the 
Sunni scholars had terrifying popularity among the masses. The move- 
ment's doctrine of political quietism, based in the belief articulated by Ibn 
Hanbal and others that Muslims should never rebel against their Muslim 
ruler regardless of his heresies or iniquity, made Sunni Islam eminently 
acceptable to the rulers of the Muslim empire as well. The combination 
of popular and state support proved unbeatable. 

During this time of tremendous ferment and productivity in Islamic 
thought, ninth- and tenth-century scholars traveled, taught and disputed 
along the Silk Road that linked the Mediterranean, the Middle East and 
Central Asia. There were many more luminaries of law than just Abu 
Hanifa, Malik, Shafi'i and Ibn Hanbal. Awza'i of Beirut, Tabari of Baghdad 
and Thawri of Kufa developed their own approaches to the Shariah and 
attracted followers. The legacies of Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi'i and Ibn 
Hanbal, however, flourished above all others. Through a combination of 
chance, the efforts of talented scholars who preserved and further devel- 
oped their bodies of {aw and occasional sponsorship from Muslim rulers, 
by the twelfth century the schools of thought around these four names 
emerged as the four accepted madhhabs, or schools of law, in Sunni Islam. 

If the triumph of the 'People of the Sunna' meant that the vast corpus 
of Hadiths now superseded the Maliki reliance on Medinan custom and 
the Kufan laws derived from analogical reasoning and Istihsan, then how 
could the Hanafi and Maliki schools continue to adhere to their bodies of 
law under the Sunni umbrella? Shah Wali Allah pondered this question in 
particular as he looked back on the first three centuries of Islam. He saw 
an eerie, symmetrical unity in what had been for those involved an age 
of bitter disagreement and venomous dispute. He explained how Kufan 
scholars like Abu Hanifa had developed a comprehensive body of legal 
rulings using rational methods to extend the limited texts of the Qur'an 
and acceptable Hadiths to a limitless number of real or hypothetical situ- 
ations. The early Sunnis had prioritized clinging tightly to the words of 
God and the Prophet, fearing an indulgence in speculation and reason. 


This limited their ability to find answers to new legal questions. As the 
Sunni scholars of the 800s unified the regional pockets of Hadiths into a 
vast reservoir, this new wealth of scripture enabled them to expand their 
law as well to coyer almost all areas of life. 

This meant that the Hanafi and Maliki schools were then able to back 
their law up with the newly amalgamated wealth of Hadiths too. They did 
so by mining the voluminous collections of Hadiths gathered by scholars 
like Ibn Hanbal for Hadiths that would support their rulings. In Egypt, 
a scholar named Tahawi defected from the Shafi'i school to the Hanafi 
and proceeded to compile two vast Hadith works that explained how his 
adopted school's body of law obeyed Hadiths to the letter. Abu Hanifa and 
his followers had, for example, maintained that a Muslim who murdered 
an unbeliever (kafir) could be executed as punishment on the basis of the 
Qur'anic edict of A life for a life' (5:45). Tahawi explained that a Hadith 
in which the Prophet commanded that 'A believer is not executed for an 
infidel' should be understood as applying only to unbelievers with whom 
the Muslims are at war, not ones living under a peace agreement. Tahawi 
supported his argument with narrations of this Hadith that made refer- 
ence to the context of being at war. 63 An eleventh-century Maliki judge in 
Lisbon, then a provincial center of learning in Andalusia, named Ibn 'Abd 
al-Barr did the same service for Maliki law. 

Each madhhab was an ocean of diversity and constant scholarly activ- 
ity. The Hanafi school was based on the often contrasting opinions of 
Abu Hanifa, his two main disciples Shaybani and Abu Yusuf, as well as a 
more independent student named Zufar. The Maliki school built on the 
opinions of Malik and his senior disciples, who often disagreed with him 
and each other. ShafiTs long years of travel and intellectual maturation 
led to two whole eras in his legal opinions, 'the Old' and 'the New,' both or 
which were incorporated into his madhhab. Ibn Hanbal's close attention 
to Hadiths led him to change his opinion on legal issues as new Hadiths 
were uncovered, and the Hanbali madhhab thus enjoyed a wide range ot 
opinions even at its founding level. 

The foundational legal manuals of each madhhab were expanded on, 
abridged and commented on in depth over the centuries. Like an accor- 
dion, the books of the madhhabs were sometimes summarized into terse 
epitomes (even rendered in poetry to aid memorization), then these 
laconic booklets would be explicated by a new generation of scholars in 
a new, larger book before being abridged once again. 


The leading scholars of each generation felt qualified to extend the 
interpretive methods of their school to novel issues, such as the tobaccp 
newly discovered in the Americas (most schools have permitted smoking 
or considered it 'disliked,' though consistent minorities have argued for 
prohibiting it) or the use of new military technologies like gunpowder. 

Far from a myopic or rigid body of law, the Sunni Shariah tradition 
thus became a swirl of stunning diversity. Not only were there four distinct 
schools of law, but each school also had a range of opinions on any one 
question. Furthermore, the recorded legacies of the extinct madhhabs of 
scholars like Tabari and the ancient opinions of scattered Companions 
and Successors added to the body of legal knowledge. The statement 'the 
Shariah says...' is thus automatically misleading, as there is almost always 
more than one answer to any legal question. 

Each madhhab conquered its own territory over time. The Hanafi 
school proliferated among the Turks of Central Asia, becoming dominant 
in India and later in the Ottoman Empire when Turkic Muslim dynas- 
ties established themselves in those climes. The Shafi'i school, based 
in Egypt and Yemen, spread through Indian Ocean trade to Southeast 
Asia, where it is the monopoly madhhab until today. The Maliki school 
spread with Malik's students from North Africa to the west, becoming 
the exclusive madhhab from Andalusia to West Africa and even east to 
the Sudan. The Hanbali school was predominant in Baghdad through 
the fourteenth century, but otherwise it simmered only among scholarly 
circles in Jerusalem and, when the Crusaders drove many of its ulama 
to flight, in certain districts of Damascus. Always a minority move- 
ment, it became increasingly influential in the eighteenth century, when 
the isolated Hanbalis of Central Arabia formed the powerful Wahhabi 

The undeniable diversity of the schools of law presented a potential 
challenge to the ulama, who all believed that the Shariah was the unified 
law of God. They explained this inconsistency by upholding the unity of 
the Shariah as the idea of God's law, while acknowledging that humans 
will necessarily come to different understandings of fiqh, or the actual 
law as derived and applied in this world. Although scholars from different 
madhhabs would argue and write spirited polemics against one another, 
they recognized each other's legitimacy. Their approach to the unity and 
diversity of the Shariah was best expressed by the twelfth-century Hanafi 
scholar of Central Asia, Abu Hafs Nasafi: 'Our school is correct with the 


possibility of error, and another school is in error with the possibility of 
being correct.' 64 

In fact, within the greater Shariah system this diversity became a 
strength. The Shariah courts of the medieval and early modern Islamic 
world reflected and took advantage of it. In a region with multiple coexist- 
ing madhhabs, such as Egypt (where the Shafi'i, Maliki and Hanafi schools 
proliferated), a couple who wanted to marry without the permission of 
the woman's father could go to the Hanafi court, whose judge would allow 
this, unlike the other schools of law. A Muslim woman in Bosnia in the 
eighteenth century whose husband had disappeared overseas without a 
trace abandoned the local Hanafi school and declared herself a follower 
of the Shafi'i madhhab before the judge. While the Hanafi school required 
her to wait the average lifetime of a man before her marriage was dissolved, 
the Shafi'i opinion that had gained ascendancy in that period (there were 
two opinions in the school) allowed her to remarry after only four years 
on the basis of the caliph Umar bin Khattab's ruling. 65 

Rulers could take advantage of this diversity as well. The Mamluk sultans 
of medieval Cairo appointed chief judges from each madhhab to keep an 
array of authorities on hand to legitimize their policies. The Maliki judges 
in particular proved useful when the sultan wanted to execute heterodox 
troublemakers, since their madhhab did not allow a chance to repent for 
someone convicted of the capital crime of apostasy. 66 

A functioning legal system needs to be predictable, however, so there 
were also efforts to rein in and order this interpretive plurality. Scholars 
like the tenth-century Ibn Mundhir of Nishapur compiled books of Ijma', 
listing the points of law on which all schools agreed. After the eleventh 
century it became effectively impossible to start a new madhhab, with one 
Baghdad scholar composing a poem on how the four schools' founders 
'Are our proofs, and whoever is guided by anyone other will go astray ' In 
thirteenth-century Cairo, the accusation that a senior scholar was trying 
to found a new school of law prompted a rebuke from the sultan himself. 67 

Within each school of law, the multiplicity of opinions was regimented 
by developing a hierarchy of authoritative scholars and texts to use as 
references when answering legal questions. Generations of scholars sifted 
through the array of opinions in their madhhab, highlighting the well- 
founded ones and marginalizing the anomalous. Through this process, in 
the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries schools identified what was the 
'official opinion' {mufta bihi) or the 'relied upon' one. 


Whether a scholar could go outside the four madhhabs and adopt the 
anomalous position of a Companion or extinct madhhab was a vexing 
question that would boil over in controversy time and again from the 
thirteenth century onward, particularly in Shah Wali Allah's day. A scholar 
writing in fourteenth-century Damascus emphasized the importance of the 
cumulative process of review and correction that the four madhhabs each 
offered. If one tried to bypass them and go back to the Qur'an, Hadiths or 
the sometimes erratic rulings of the early Muslim generations, one might 
end up adopting the mad ruling of Hajjaj bin Arta, an eighth- century scholar 
who ruled that a thief's severed hand should be hung around his neck. 

Though Muslim rulers might benefit from Shariah flexibility, in the 
thirteenth century large Islamic states saw restraining it and systematiz- 
ing Shariah justice as part of strengthening their centralized authority. 
Of the Sunni law schools, only the Hanafi one allowed judges to accept 
appointments under the condition that they only rule by one school. It 
was fortunate that the dominant Sunni states of the late medieval and early 
modern periods identified as Hanafi. As the Ottoman Empire reached the 
full bloom of its power in the 1500s, Shariah court judges were restricted 
to ruling only by the principal decisions of the Hanafi school unless the 
sultans issued edicts otherwise (though the.state's efforts to ban dodges 
like the Bosnian wife's recourse to Shafi'i lawfailed in practice). Regulation 
need not come from the state, however. Throughout Maliki- dominated 
North Africa and Spain, the judges in Shariah courts limited themselves 
to ruling only by the official position of the Maliki school of law. 


The books that a young Shah Wali Allah carried to and from his daily 
studies in Delhi did not differ dramatically from the curricula followed 
in madrasas in Ottoman Istanbul or even in the Shiite seminaries of 
Isfahan. Like his cohorts in all these centers of learning, he plodded 
through dense works of Arabic grammar, law and theology. The text at 
the center of the page would be explicated by multiple commentaries 
running between its lines and around its margins, often composed by 
some legendary master scholar from Tamerlane's court in Samarqand. 
All this would be unlocked and clarified, the students hoped, by the 
teachers at whose feet they sat. 


The scholarly ether that permeated all these subjects was the language 
of logic. The convoluted procedures of Aristotelian definition and syl- 
logism became second nature to students like Shah Wali Allah, and they 
employed logical jargon like 'specific accident' and 'a thing in its essence' 
with almost instinctive ease. Logic had become the lingua franca of Islamic 
scholarship and the glue of ulama culture. One of the senior scholars at 
the Ottoman court grilled newcomers seeking employment in Istanbul's 
learned hierarchy with a set of questions such as proving how the logical 
definition of 'proposition' did not collapse under the contradiction of the 
Liar's Paradox. The most epic scholarly dual in the collective memory of 
North India's ulama was the near- mythic disputation on language, logic 
and theology held between the two most vaunted scholars of Samarqand, 
which had resulted in the loser's death from despair. 68 

Shah Wali Allah cursed the extinct heresy of the Mutazilites as much 
as any self-respecting Sunni. But, as the ubiquity of Greek logic in its cur- 
riculum betrayed, Sunni Islam had long ago adopted much of the heresy it 
had once fought so fiercely. Ironically, the great and unbridgeable dispute 
between the rationalist Mutazila and the traditionalist Sunnis resulted in a 
synthesis of the two schools. It began with an early tenth-century Mutazila 
scholar from Basra named Abu Hasan Ash'ari, who had a dream in which 
the Prophet bid him embrace the teachings of Ibn Hanbal. He became their 
most avid defender and soon began using the Mutazila's own rationalist 
methods to support the tenets of Sunni theology. 

Although he began by adopting the Sunni approach of affirming belief 
in anthropomorphic verses of the Quran and Hadiths without asking ques- 
tions, Ash'ari soon adopted the Mutazila's method of figurative interpre- 
tation. Consulting the metaphors used in Arab poetry at the time of the 
Prophet, he established that when scripture mentioned God's 'hand,' it 
was a reference to His power. His 'face' should be understood as a meta- 
phor for His essence. God's 'sight' alluded to His unerring watchfulness 
over creation. His 'descent in the last third of the night' was His mercy 
upon the pious. 

For Ash'ari and the early Sunnis, the great heresy of the Mutazila was 
their confidence in human reason. In matters of theology, this had led them 
to defend God's justice at the expense of His power. By insisting that God 
was rational and that right and wrong were objective realities, they had 
made God subject to reason and His actions hostage to concepts outside 
of Him. Ash'ari and his followers countered by erasing limits on God's 


power and making His actions the very definition of right and wrong. For 
Ash'ari, God knew the most insignificant act and ultimate destiny of every 
creature. In fact, Shah Wali Allah notes, Hadiths like the debate between 
Adam and Moses made it clear that God had predestined each soul for 
Heaven or Hell before the world even began. If this seemed to entail an 
injustice for those humans who would be punished in Hellfire for sins 
they were predestined to commit, this was immaterial. Our feeble minds 
cannot grasp God's knowledge or ultimate justice. How can we hope to 
explain how God can both know what we will do before we do it and still 
hold us accountable for that choice afterwards, when words like 'before,' 
'after' and time itself are His creations? 

In their conception of law and ethics, the Mutazila believed that uni- 
versal notions of right and wrong could be ascertained by reason. For 
Ash'ari, this was simply untenable. There were no universal rights or 
wrongs. Concepts of just or unjust, laudable or despicable were nothing 
more than personal predilections or the customs of a particular culture. 
One might think that basic maxims like 'justice is good' or 'senseless kill- 
ing is wrong' are truths accessible universally by human reason. But, as 
a later theologian proposed, imagine a person suddenly coming to earth 
without any culture, upbringing or background. They might not come 
to those conclusions at all. Such notions may be extremely widely held, 
but they are the products of culture, convention and education, not first 
principles of reason. The essential Tightness or wrongness of an action 
was determined solely by God's revelation to humankind and the legal 
scholars' derivation of the Shariah from it. 

In such beliefs Ash'ari and his school of theology might seem mind- 
lessly regressive, but the ulama were constructing the Shariah project as a 
language and system designed to unify a cosmopolitan world that seemed 
too diverse to explain. Among the Hindu nobility of Shah Wali Allah's 
India, many Rajput noblewomen considered throwing themselves onto 
the funeral pyres of their dead husbands to be an honor and a duty. Yet 
for Muslims, suicide was strictly prohibited. In Ash'ari's own lifetime, a 
Muslim ambassador from the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad traveled through 
what is now southern Russia and witnessed the burial of a wealthy Viking 
chief. Placed on the chief's longboat in the river along with his body was 
one of his slave women, who was ritually raped by six warriors before 
being stabbed and strangled to death as the ship was set ablaze. When 
the polite but aghast Muslim observer asked how the Norsemen could 


conduct such burials, they responded with equal confusion: how could 
Muslims let their dead loved ones be eaten by worms beneath the ground? 69 
Where were universal notions of propriety, rights or morality to be found 
in such a world? 

Imperial diversity was not new, of course. Roman jurists in the geo- 
graphical heyday of their empire had found themselves adjudicating 
similarly polyglot peoples. They concluded that even disparate cultures 
generally shared core values, sometimes even due to the natural makeup 
of the human species. Sunni theologians and jurists also accepted readily 
that people tended to behave according to 'Ada, or the common course of 
nature and society, such as love for family and a desire for self-preservation. 
Such reliable generalities were strong probabilities admissible in shap- 
ing the details of law or for governing procedure in courts. Based on the 
standards of 'Ada, the claim of an impoverished man who insisted that he 
was actually wealthy but had loaned all his money to a rich man who had 
then refused to return it, would not even be entertained by a Shariah judge. 
But such generalities were not eternal moral truths, uniformly knowable 
to man's reason and able to trump the revealed laws of God. 70 

Ironically, in their attempt to construct a more universal epistemol- 
ogy for law and theology, the Ash'ari school was deeply influenced by the 
Mutazila. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, the Sunni legal scholars who 
followed the Ash'ari school of theology began examining the epistemologi- 
cal roots of knowledge and the derivation of law through the rationalist 
lens of the Mutazila in order to articulate a science of moral epistemology 
and legal theory (Usui al-Fiqh). 

Since the sources of Islamic doctrine were revealed texts, much of this 
science involved investigating the nature of language. What is the basic 
feature of an imperative command? What determines the meaning of words 
in general and in the Qur'an or Hadiths in particular? What emerged as 
the 'Majority' (Ash'ari) school of legal theory, for example, held that the 
meaning of words was determined by their use in Islam's scriptures, while 
the legal theory developed by the Hanafis held that the meaning of terms 
came from their original meaning in pre-Islamic Arabic. 

Legal theorists of the tenth and eleventh centuries developed tiers of 
certainty based on the Late Antique philosophical heritage. Their vision 
paralleled Aristotle and other philosophical schools such as the Stoics. 
'Certitude' (yaqin) was the rare level of knowledge that came from unim- 
peachable sources, needed for areas such as theological beliefs. 'Probable 


supposition' (zann) was the more realistic level of certainty that people 
needed for daily life or for determining right and wrong acts. Like Aristotle, 
they concluded that certitude comes through sense perception or the First 
Principles of reason (such as 'the whole is greater than one of its parts' or 
'X cannot be X and Not-X in the same way at the same time'). 71 

Aristotle, however, was never a follower of revelation. The past was a 
grab bag of interesting particulars, not a source of truth. He had no place 
for scripture. How could the concept of a revealed source of authority, 
like the Qur'an and Hadiths, be fit into this worldview? Christian Church 
Fathers such as Augustine and Jewish scholars like the great rabbi of tenth- 
century Baghdad, Saadia Gaon, faced the same challenge of reconciling 
the Bible and the Greco-Roman heritage. Muslim legal theorists followed 
in their footsteps by adding another source of certainty to reason and 
sense perception: infallibly accurate transmissions from a divine source. 72 

This allowed the all-important place for the Qur'an and those Hadiths 
that were attested widely enough to be considered 'widely and diffusely 
transmitted' (mutawatir), or so well known that they could not possibly 
be forgeries. Such reports were so well verified that their truth came 
across like sense perception. In this new scale of certainty, the standard, 
less well-known Hadiths used to establish most Shariah laws were still 
considered acceptable, since the Late Antique philosophical tradition only 
required a strong probability as opposed to certainty in judging actions. 73 
Law thus stood in stark contrast with theological doctrine, which required 
epistemological certainty. 

The most challenging task was finding rational justification for the infal- 
libility oiljma', the consensus of the Muslim community. The Hadiths in 
which the Prophet spoke of this, like his saying that 'My community will 
never agree in error,' were themselves only known through limited num- 
bers of transmissions and thus offered no certitude. Sunni legal theorists 
tried to solve this problem by arguing that 'Ada, the normal functioning 
of human society, made it impossible for a whole community to agree in 
error that an event had occurred or a statement been made. Sunni schol- 
ars argued that, since the ulama had come to consensus that the Prophet 
had affirmed the Umma's infallibility, the authenticity of this Hadith was 
certain and the basis for Ijma' established. 

Counterintuitively, the formal, rationally derived schools of theology 
and legal theory emerged after the madhhabs and the tenets of Sunni 
theology. These new sciences were used to justify rather than to correct 


or replace Sunni bodies of law and dogma. In the case of Sunni theology, 
this presented a serious challenge. The epistemological framework that 
these Sunni legal theorists had adopted required that tenets of faith such 
as the nature of God, the events of the Day of Judgment and the fate of 
the soul after death be derived from epistemologically certain sources 
of revelation, such as the Qur'an. But the Hadiths that conveyed these 
beliefs could not meet the standard for massive transmission. Some legal 
theorists solved this conundrum by arguing that the Muslim community 
as a whole had come to consensus on these beliefs. They were therefore 
known with certainty. Moreover, although a particular Hadith about the 
Punishment of the Grave might not be established with total certainty, all 
the varied Hadiths mentioning this article of faith collectively raised this 
tenet above the possibility of forgery, the ulama claimed. 

Beginning in the tenth century, these legal theorists derived Qawa'id, 
or doctrinal principles and procedural maxims for navigating the array 
of legal opinions on any one issue and to guide them in addressing novel 
questions. Sometimes these maxims came from the Prophet himself, but 
more often they were logical rules or principles distilled from the decision- 
making processes of the early generations of jurists. One maxim stated 
that 'Certainty is never removed by doubt.' Analyzing their madhhab's 
law, Hanafi scholars concluded that this was the basis for their refusal 
to annul the marriage of a woman whose husband had vanished or been 
absent for years. Her marriage to him was known with certainty, and it 
could not be overturned by the mere probability that he was dead until 
this was ascertained for sure or the average human lifespan had passed. 74 
Another maxim stated that 'Difficulty calls for easing.' On this basis, the 
Hanafi judge in Bosnia allowed the woman with a missing husband to 
take her case to the Shafi'i court to be decided according to that school's 
more lenient ruling. 75 


At fourteen, even before he acquired his prodigious learning, Shah Wall 
Allah became a disciple of the Sufi path. The young scholar's given name 
was actually Ahmad. At his birth, however, intimations felt on a visit to the 
shrine of a powerful Sufi saint had left his father convinced that the child 
enjoyed a rare intimacy with the Creator. He gave him the title by which 


he would become so well known: Wali Allah, 'the friend of God.' In time, 
the honorific used for those with prestigious spiritual lineages was added; 
to his name as well: Shah, or 'king.' 76 

The ideal oilhsan, or 'perfecting' one's faith and conduct such that one 
was constantly conscious of God, had been the highest level of religion that 
Muhammad had taught his followers. But, like Islam's legal and theologi- 
cal traditions, this singular teaching had branched out into tremendous 
diversity over the centuries, a phenomenon that Shah Wali Allah sought 
to trace and explain in his writings. 

While in Mecca, Shah Wali Allah ventured into the barren desert to 
pay homage to the grave of one of the Prophet's Companions named Abu 
Dharr Ghifari. 77 Even during the Prophet's lifetime, some of his followers 
had been more inclined than others to intensive devotion, pious abstemi- 
ousness and pondering the divine mysteries. Abu Dharr was among those 
who cultivated a heightened spiritual state, and his constant awareness 
of God led him to an ascetic lifestyle far more austere than what Islam 
required. Some of the Prophet's Companions chose this path because 
they had absorbed the profound aura of blessings around their master and 
perhaps even heard him explain deep truths not shared with all. 

The tradition of spiritual and ethical devotion that reaches above 
and beyond the required duties prescribed by the Shariah is known as 
Tasawwuf, or Sufism. In addition to being a leading jurist and Hadith 
transmitter in his day, Hasan Basri was also seen as a founding figure in 
this 'science of purifying the heart.' When later Sufi masters traced their 
teachings and practices back to the Prophet, in just the same way that a 
Hadith's chain of transmission ensured its authority, their Isnads of Sufi 
teachings most often passed through Hasan to the Prophet's son-in-law 
Ali, proclaimed by Muhammad to be the gate to the city of his prophetic 

In the ninth century, this spiritual inheritance was claimed by great 
Sufi icons who sought the constant presence of God. For some, like the 
martyred mystic of Baghdad, Hallaj, ecstatic union with the divine led to 
moments of spiritual intoxication and utterances that struck more sober 
ulama as heretical. What became orthodox Sufism was exemplified by 
Hallaj's fellow Baghdadi of the early tenth century, Junayd, who famously 
declared that 'Our Science is bounded by the Qur'an and Sunna.' 78 

For those who cultivated a constant God-consciousness, the pious 
elect whom the Qur'an referred to as Awliya' Allah (the Friends of God), 


the constraints of the earthly world meant nothing. As Shah Wali Allah 
described them (and himself), they could know the future, exist in a 
constant state of ritual purity and some would set out on travels without 
any provisions, trusting completely in God. As one Hadith foretold, for 
those whom God chose as His saints He becomes 'the ears with which they 
hear, the eyes with which they see, the fist with which they grasp...' 79 For 
them, the rules of nature could be broken, and they could work miracles 
such as curing the sick, folding space and traveling to Mecca and back for 
a daily prayer. 

After their death, these saints only grew in power and station. The 
same Hadiths that established the Punishment of the Grave established 
that the souls of the dead are still conscious and active, and in other 
Hadiths the Prophet tells how: "The prophets are alive, praying in their 
graves.' 80 Saints were thought to be no different, as able in death to answer 
invocations for assistance as they had been in this earthly life. Especially 
after the 1 100s, their graves became centers of pilgrimage for the masses 
of Muslims seeking their Baraka, or blessing. The Mughal sultans who 
ruled Delhi may have held the reins of temporal power, but they believed 
that it was the Sufi saints of India, living and dead, who truly upheld their 
sovereignty. Delhi had a special gate built for the road to the distant city 
of Ajmer, where the patron Sufi saint of the Mughals, Muin al-Din Chishti, 
was buried. Every year the greatest of the Mughal sultans would make the 
four-hundred-kilometer pilgrimage to Ajmer - on foot - to pay homage 
at the Chishti shrine. 81 

For the elite Sufis, their path was not merely the pursuit of superior 
conduct and consciousness of God. It was the unveiling of reality itself. The 
Qur'an called God 'the light of the heavens and the earth,' and proclaimed 
that 'everything will perish except His countenance.' The material world 
was simply dark nothingness illuminated by the creative light of God. It was 
a shadowy and corrupted reflection of God, the only true Reality. Human 
souls were stranded particles of God's divine breath, tormented by their 
distance from the wellspring of existence. As the thirteenth-century Sufi 
poet Rumi wrote, humankind's cry of isolation was like the reed flutes 
song. Ever since it was cut from the reed bed, it has yearned to return. 

This Sufi cosmology was formalized by a unique Sufi master, the 
thirteenth-century Andalusian Ibn Arabi. In his profound writings, he 
described how Godhad brought about creation becauseHewas 'ahidden 
jewel and wanted to be known.' Creation reflected His simultaneous 


unity and limitless creative power, but only humankind, by choosing to 
worship Him fully, could most fully know and reflect God. For Ibn Arabi, 
Muhammad was not simply a prophet and guide. As the best of humankind, 
he was the best of creation, the ultimate reflection of God's perfection. 
Muhammad was more than just a man. He was a cosmic reality, the ideal 
'perfect human' who existed throughout time to fulfill the purpose of 
creation and mirror God. 

What these theosophical Sufis understood but could not proclaim 
publicly was that these truths transcended Islam's Abrahamic horizons 
and the legal and theological traditions of the ulama. The metaphysical 
reality that creation was an emanation, an overflow, of God's perfection, 
growing darker and less real the further it extended from Him; that human 
souls were caught too far out in this tide and yearned for the divine shore, 
traced its roots to Plato and a later mystical interpreter of his philosophy 
in Rome, the influential third-century philosopher Plotinus. Such aware- 
ness led some Muslim mystics to acknowledge that truth lay embedded in 
other religions, even if they had gone egregiously astray. The leading Sufi of 
Delhi in Shah Wali Allah's day was Mazhar Jan-e Janan, who affirmed that 
Krishna (in Hinduism, an avatar of the god Vishnu) had been a prophet 
and that the Hindu Rig Veda was divinely inspired scripture even if Hindus 
in his own time had descended into polytheism. 82 

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, as the schools of law were 
solidifying into their guild-like form, a number of Sufi masters emerged 
whose teachings attracted wide attention. Among them were a Hanbali 
scholar in Baghdad, renowned for his piety, named Abd al-Qadir Jilani; 
a Moroccan saint who settled in Egypt, Abu Hasan Shadhili; and the 
Bukharan Baha' al-Din Naqshband, who gathered together the wisdom 
of Persia's Sufi masters. 

The mystical insights and methods of spiritual and ethical discipline 
taught by these masters were organized by their senior disciples into 
regimented Sufi orders, or 'paths' (tariqa). Sufi orders centered on the 
devotional exercises and liturgical poems (wird) penned by the masters 
to focus aspiring Sufis on God, the Prophet and greater piety. Many 
orders gathered together for group recitations of these poems or merely 
for chanting the names of God. Some, like the Mevlevi tariqa of Anatolia 
(the famous 'whirling dervishes,' the order founded on the teachings of 
Rumi) developed dances that focused them on God's majestic oneness and 
the order of the cosmos. Other, more extreme and controversial orders 


sought to demonstrate their spiritual ecstasy by walking on hot coals or 
eating snakes live, as the stunned Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta observed 
the frenetic Rifa'i Sufis do in southern Iraq around 1330. 83 

The person of the Sufi master, who had learned from a succession of 
predecessors back to the order's founder, and from him back eventually 
to the Prophet, was all-important. The master, or shaykh, could diagnose 
the seeker's spiritual illnesses and prescribe the proper steps to moving 
along the Sufi path. In the Shadhili order, for example, this might first 
entail repeating any of the five daily prayers that the novice had performed 
without truly remembering God, or going a whole month without back- 
biting. Like the schools of law, these Sufi paths proliferated in certain 
regions. The Naqshbandi order predominated in Central Asia and had a 
huge impact in India, while the Shadhili gained many followers in North 
Africa and Egypt. 

Mainstream Sufism stressed its adherence to the Shariah in common 
mantras like 'Without Shariah, the Truth lying at the end of the Sufi path 
is heresy.' 84 Although antinomian orders like the Rifa'is used claims of 
religious ecstasy to justify outrageous practices, treading the Sufi path in 
one of the mainstream orders began - at least in theory - with committing 
oneself to observing the Shariah fastidiously. 

Yet the Sufis' objective of proximity to God and the notion that this 
closeness could grant access to mystical truths, received directly from the 
Divine, in addition to claims that Sufi masters inherited esoteric knowledge 
from early figures like Ali, created a source of 'Urn that competed with the 
books of Shariah jurists. As one early Sufi, Bayazid Bistami, once told a 
Hadith scholar: 'You take your knowledge dead from the dead, but I take 
mine from the Living One who does not die.' 85 Shah Wali Allah himself 
encountered the Prophet many times in person in the spiritual dimension 
explored by Sufis. The Sufi tradition thus added experiential knowledge, 
or taste (dhawq), to the existing sources of knowing truth - revelation 
and reason. This experiential knowledge, however, generally concerned 
insights about God's nature or spiritual realities. It rarely intruded into 
law. When a man in the thirteenth century saw a vision of the Prophet 
in which he told the man where to find buried treasure and issued him 
an exemption from paying the required Zakat charity tax on the loot, 
the leading scholar called to judge the case was unimpressed. This mans 
vision of the Prophet could not contend with sound Hadiths requiring 
the charity tax be paid. 86 




Shah Wali Allah's two-year sojourn in Mecca and Medina was life-changing. 
Not only was the twenty-nine-year-old Indian exposed to scholars and 
students from distant lands, Kurdish Sufi masters and Basran Hadith 
experts, he was also drawn into the vortex of a revivalist current that would 
transform far-flung corners of the Muslim world. Seated in the study cir- 
cles clustered around the pillars of the Prophet's mosque in Medina, he 
was introduced to the impassioned writings of a scholar from Damascus 
of four centuries earlier, a man who had waged a one-man campaign 
against the heresies and corruptions he saw around him. Controversy led 
to this scholar's imprisonment in Cairo and then eventually in the citadel 
of Damascus, where he died in 1328. 

Ibn Taymiyya has certainly been one of the most controversial figures 
in Islamic history. Many have lionized him as Islam's greatest reviver, yet 
just as many others have condemned him as an unleasher of interpretive 
chaos. Loved or reviled, Ibn Taymiyya rose up in a jeremiad against almost 
every institution and tradition of Sunni Islam as it had accrued in his day. 
Although an accomplished Hanbali jurist, he broke not only with his own 
madhhab but also with all four Sunni madhhabs on sensitive issues when 
he believed that these schools had not followed the clear evidence of the 
Qur'an and Hadiths. Ibn Taymiyya worked to unmask the charlatanry of 
fire-walking Sufis like the Rifa'is and personally destroyed sites of local 
superstitious pilgrimage around his native Damascus. He passionately 
rejected Ash'ari theology as a Greek solution to Greek problems that 
should never have concerned the Abrahamic revealed tradition. In his 
resistance to rigid loyalty to the madhhabs, his critique of the excesses 
of Sufism and his rejection of Ash'ari speculative theology, Ibn Taymiyya 
brought together important strains of iconoclastic opposition to the pow- 
erful medieval institutions of Islamic thought. Shah Wali Allah devoted 
a treatise to defending him and praised him as one of the great scholars 
of Sunni Islam. 87 

The intellectual threads that intertwined in Ibn Taymiyya's volumi- 
nous writings were not new. Ever since Abu Hasan Ash'ari's pioneering 
development of the Sunni science of speculative theology, there had been 
a prominent strain of conservative Sunni scholars who had rejected his 
school of thought. Particularly numerous among Hanbali ulama, they 
represented a continuity of the original traditionalism of early Sunnis like 


Ibn Hanbal. They rej ected any rational speculation in theological matters, 
seeing no need to euphemize the anthropomorphisms in the Qur'an and 
Hadiths. These traditionalists rejected the Ash'ari philosophical concep- 
tions of God that made such scripture problematic to begin with. As a 
leading Hanbali scholar of Damascus, Ibn Qudama, wrote, God never 
required Muslims to understand the exact meaning of anthropomorphic 
images invoked in scripture. Lay Muslims understood instinctively what 
God meant when the Qur'an said, 'God established Himself on the throne,' 
and all that the ulama had to remind them was that, whatever image 
occurred in their mind when they heard God's words, it can never even 
approximate God's untrammeled power and glory. Where the Ash'ari 
theologians used reason and an analysis of Arabic metaphor to hammer 
out specific explanations for God's 'hand' and 'face,' the traditionalists 
such as Ibn Qudama and Ibn Taymiyya trusted in the instinctive under- 
standing of the average believer. 88 

Many Muslim scholars had also been alarmed by the excessive practices 
found in some Sufi orders. A famous twelfth-century Hanbali scholar of 
Baghdad, himself a committed Sufi, wrote a detailed criticism of all the 
ways in which the Devil had led Muslims astray. Much of his criticism was 
directed at the superstitions, unsanctioned forms of worship and moral 
laxities of the rabble who claimed to be Sufi devotees. Several decades 
later, an outraged Shafi'i scholar in Damascus wrote a book describing all 
the forms of Bid 'a (heretical innovation in ritual and practice) that had 
proliferated in his region, specifying the local shrines that the populace 
frequented for petitioning bygone saints. By Ibn Taymiyya's time, some 
ulama of Cairo and Damascus had become increasingly disturbed by the 
theosophy of Ibn Arabi as well, seeing it as disguised pantheism, or the 
belief that creation is infused with the divine. 89 

Finally, the four Sunni schools of law had become so institutionalized 
and guild-like that several prominent scholars in Ibn Taymiyya's small 
circle in Damascus rebelled against their rigid and decadent scholarly 
culture. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the ulama had taken to 
wearing distinctive robes with pronouncedly wide sleeves as well as clo ths 
draped over their turbans in order to distinguish themselves as a clerical 
class. Iconoclastic critics like Ibn Taymiyya saw in this the creation of a 
priestly caste following specific codes of law with blind devotion, ignoring 
the living impulse of the Qur'an and the Sunna as well as the primordial 
equality of believers. 


From the time of Ibn Taymiyya in the fourteenth century onward, Sunni 
thought would be characterized by a great tension between the institutional 
traditions of the madhhabs, Sufi orders and Ash'ari theology on the one 
hand, and an austere iconoclasm on the other. This second strain would 
coalesce in the time of Shah Wali Allah into a powerful impetus to renew 
and revive Islam, to return to the pure faith of the Salaf, or the righteous 
early Muslims. 

This impulse stemmed from an acute sense that Muslims had aban- 
doned or adulterated the message of Islam. The cosmopolitan world of 
seventeenth-century Istanbul had been jolted by a conservative funda- 
mentalist movement known as the Qadizadeli that preached against coffee 
drinking and tobacco smoking, and in northern India in the same period 
Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi claimed to be the 'renewer' of the Islamic Umma 
in the new morning of its second millennium. He decried Sufi groups that 
had incorporated elements of Hindu ritual and imagery, and he called for 
an orthodox denunciation of India's infidel majority (as opposed to Jan-e 
Janan's more sympathetic view). A Moroccan scholar sojourning in the 
Songhai Empire of Mali in West Africa told its ruler, newly committed to 
an orthodox implementation of Islam, that his supposedly Muslim people 
had to renounce their local pagan customs or be compelled to do so. 90 Such 
forces culminated in a set of powerful revival movements that sprang up 
in previously marginal parts of the Muslim world: India, Central Arabia, 
West Africa and Yemen. 

It was actually Sufism that helped spark these eighteenth- century calls 
for revival. Shah Wali Allah's father was a Naqshbandi Sufi master and his 
first shaykh, and his immersion in Sufism led him to pore over seminal 
mystical works that stressed how the Sufi's supererogatory commitment 
to pious excellence transcended the madhhabs and brought a more direct 
connection with God. The true Sufirecovered the station of the exemplary 
original Muslims, who had predated the stagnation of the madhhabs and 
the dissipation of the faith. 91 What Shah Wali Allah encountered during 
his stay in Mecca and Medina was a rejuvenated and intensive study of 
Hadiths, which allowed him to immerse himself in the records of the 
Prophet's words and furnished direct scriptural means to return to the 
original Sunna. 

When he settled back in Delhi to teach in his late father's madrasa, 
Shah Wali Allah devoted himself to reviving what he understood to be 
the true Islam. He denounced the popular practices and superstitions 


that he believed the Muslims of India were borrowing from Hinduism and 
other religions. Like Ibn Taymiyya, he rejected the speculative theology 
of Ash'ari and advocated the straightforward acceptance of God's descrip- 
tion of Himself. Moreover, he felt that the ulama should not encourage or 
allow the masses to venerate unduly the saints, both living and dead, or to 
forget that God alone has the power to answer prayers. 92 

Shah Wali Allah also wrote hundreds of pages explicating how India's 
ulama should break free of their chauvinistic loyalty to the Hanafi school 
of law and recognize how its legal rulings sometimes ignored authentic 
Hadiths. This issue was crystallized in the seemingly mundane question of 
how and when a Muslim should raise their hands toward their ears during 
daily prayers. Shah Wali Allah and other revivalists believed that Hadiths 
made clear that this must be done multiple times in a prayer, while India's 
loyal Hanafi scholars insisted that it should only be done once. They argued 
that Abu Hanifa and the many generations of scholars who developed his 
school after him had taken into account all the evidence from the Qur'an 
and Hadiths in formulating their laws on issues such as the mechanics of 
prayer. They could not have missed applicable evidence. But Shah Wali 
Allah responded that sometimes they might have done just that, and to 
him and other revivalists, refusing to even consider that possibility meant 
preferring the Hanafi school of law over Hadiths and treating the Hanafi 
scholars of yesteryear like infallible priests, an error condemned by the 

The debate over raising hands in prayer was not merely academic. One 
of Shah Wali Allah's disciples was almost beaten to death in Delhi's great 
' mosque for raising his hands and, so the uniform Hanafi congregation 
there thought, adulterating the known prayer taught by the Messenger 
of God. Although he hoped to reform Islam in India, Shah Wali Allah 
understood the importance of tact and strategy. His criticisms of popular 
Sufi practices, like musical gatherings, were balanced and subtle. Perhaps 
in response to what he saw befall his student in the mosque, he wrote that 
in a public situation one should follow the local custom and not bring 
strife upon oneself by raising one's hands in prayer - despite the strong 
evidence that this was the correct Sunna. The uneducated masses should 
not involve themselves in such issues and should simply follow the local 
madhhab. Shah Wali Allah was not a militant, and his reform efforts were 
attempts to educate society and correct the life of the mind. 93 

Mecca and Medina in the early 1700s were crucibles of revivalist 


thought. Others who studied and taught in the twin shrine cities alongside 
Shah Wali Allah similarly devoted themselves to a renewed reverence foj 
Hadiths and to rejecting obedience to a madhhab (known as taqlid, or 'imi- 
tation') if it meant stubbornly refusing to even consider that the madhhab 
might include rulings that contradicted clear evidence from the Qur'an 
or Hadiths. Others in the same study circles reached similar conclusions 
about the need for a return to the Qur'an, Sunna and the righteous Salaf, 
including the Arabian Hanbali scholar Ibn Abd al-Wahhab. 

Unlike Shah Wali Allah, some revivalists envisioned purifying Islam as 
a mission that must be carried out by force. Particularly in West Africa and 
Central Arabia, they saw themselves as being in the exact same position 
as the Prophet's founding community over a millennium earlier: the lone 
messengers of monotheism carrying God's word to their pagan surround- 
ings by force of arms. In the barren desert of Najd in Central Arabia, Ibn 
Abd al-Wahhab perceived the superstitions, grave visitations and sinful 
lifestyles around him as no different than the pre-Islamic, polytheist Arabs 
that Muhammad had battled. The alliance he formed with the ruling Saud 
family in the town of Dir'iyya, known as the 'Muwahhid' movement, or 
those calling for restoring Tawhid (called 'Wahhabis' by their detractors), 
engaged in a violent conquest of Central Arabia that forced their revivalist 
message on the tribes they defeated. 

In what is today northern Nigeria, in the late eighteenth century a 
Muslim scholar named Usman Dan Fodio too looked at the supposedly 
Muslim communities around him and saw only neglect for the Shariah, 
such as public nudity for men and women and surviving animist religious 
customs such as venerating sacred trees. Like Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, he 
gathered followers and, after local rulers tried to terminate his preach- 
ing, eventually declared a jihad against them. As his movement grew, it 
used force of arms to bring the peoples of the region back into the fold 
of true Islam, an Islam that, in truth, they had never known. Dan Fodio 
was eventually declared Caliph of the new Islamic state of Sokoto (which 
survives today as one of Nigeria's states). 

At the root of these militant revival movements was the question of 
Takfir, or declaring someone who claimed to be a Muslim an unbeliever. 
Unlike followers of other established religions, whose faiths Shariah 
law uniformly allowed them to practice in peace alongside Muslims, 
those Muslims who either announced their apostasy from Islam or were 
declared unbelievers faced an unpleasant fate. Based on Hadiths in which 


the Prophet stated that 'Whoever changes his religion [from Islam], kill 
him,' and that 'one who leaves his religion, forsaking the community' 
should be punished by death, leaving Islam was a death-penalty offence. 
This was agreed upon by all the Sunni schools of law (though the Hanafis 
only punished women apostates with prison). 

Sunni ulama had historically been excruciatingly cautious about declar- 
ing Muslims to be apostates, following the general principle that 'Those 
who pray toward Mecca are not to be declared unbelievers.' Only someone 
who explicitly declared his renunciation of Islam, actively participated 
in the rituals of another religion or denied some aspect of Islam that was 
'known essentially as part of the religion,' like rejecting the requirement 
to pray five times a day or the finality of Muhammad's prophethood, was 
declared an unbeliever. Even a Muslim who drank alcohol, ate pork or 
fornicated was still Muslim. He was just a sinner. What would push him 
outside the pale of Islam would be believing that it was permissible in Islam 
to drink wine, eat pork or fornicate. 

The soldiers of the Wahhabi movement and the Sokoto caliphate, how- 
ever, shifted this lens in a slight but hugely consequential way. Many of the 
traditional customs of West African Muslims or Central Arabian Bedouins 
were certainly prohibited and deemed heretical by the Shariah. Wahhabi 
and Sokoto leaders would duly write to such communities, advising them 
to desist. When they refused - sometimes because they had no real idea 
about Islam to begin with and sometimes because, they rightly argued, 
many ulama approved of their practices - the revivalists interpreted this as 
the fatal belief that something clearly forbidden in Islam was permissible. 
While a more patient and realistic scholar like Shah Wali Allah would see 
this as an occasion to educate, the militants saw these wayward folk as 
non-Muslims who could legitimately be brought under Muslim control 
or, worse, as apostates worthy of death. 


In 1762, Shah Wali Allah died at the age of fifty-nine. During his lifetime, 
India's Mughal Muslim dynasty had gone from controlling almost all the 
subcontinent into a precipitous decline. The scholar's life coincided with 
a period that would later be referred to as the Twilight of the Mughals, 
when the increasingly hapless emperors in Delhi lost themselves in poetry 


and wine as their realm spun out of their control. In 1757, five years before 
Shah Wali Allah's death, a small and previously negligible band of foreigner^ 
who had been operating trading stations on India's coasts orchestrated the 
defeat of a Mughal vassal in Bengal. Within ten years, the Mughal emperor 
had acknowledged the British East India Company as its local 'representa- 
tive' in most of northeast India, and the Company administered Shariah 
courts and collected taxes in the emperor's name. By 1818, the political 
machinations and seemingly unstoppable British armies, led by legendary 
generals such as the Duke of Wellington, had gained control of most of 
India and left the Mughal emperor a ruler in name alone. 

In 1798, the turbaned ulama of another historic metropolis of Islam, 
Cairo, also found themselves under the rule of strange foreigners in bizarre, 
tight-fitting uniforms. That year, Wellington's implacable foe Napoleon 
had landed an expeditionary force in Egypt in an attempt to challenge 
Britain's control of trade routes to India. A Muslim scholar who witnessed 
the dramatic defeat of the Mamluk armies by the French at the Battle of 
the Pyramids remarked with grudging respect the foreigners' discipline, 
efficiency and bravery 94 

The colonial expansion of European powers heralded a new age for the 
custodians of the Qur'an and Sunna. No longer would the words of God 
and Muhammad or the interpretive sciences that the ulama had developed 
be paramount in the arena of law or society. An East India Company 
administrator who became a le ading European scholar of Islamic s cripture 
considered the Hadith corpus to be 'confused, if not contradictory' He 
identified what he saw as Muslims' uncritical approach to scripture, along 
with the Shariah (especially its treatment of women and family), and the 
fatalism of Sunni theology, to be primarily responsible for the 'barbarous' 
state of Islamic societies.' 5 Napoleon's secretary in Egypt described how 
the future French emperor had feigned an interest in Islam to curry the 
support of Cairo's ulama. In truth, however, Muslim dress and customs 
were silly to the French. Napoleon, the secretary noted, really looked 
upon all religions as 'the work of men.' 96 The pole of the intellectual and 
spiritual world of Muslims was shifting. 


The Fragile Truth of Scripture 

The young Egyptian doctor could not believe the Prophet had 
said it. The Hadith contradicted everything he had learned about 
disease and standards of hygiene in Cairo's modern Qasr Al-Ayni 
Medical School. 'If a fly lands in your drink, push it all the way under, 
then throw the fly out and drink. On one of the fly's wings is disease, on 
the other is its cure.' Such were the words of the Prophet as Tawfiq Sidqi 
found them. 1 

Sidqi was a committed Muslim. He had memorized the Qur'an as a 
boy and wrote regular contributions to Cairo's burgeoning journal scene, 
defending Islam against Christian missionary efforts in Egypt during 
the 1890s and the early 1900s. But even after sharing his doubts with his 
mentor, the great Muslim reformist scholar Rashid Rida, the young doctor 
could not escape an alarming conclusion: the Hadiths of the Sunni tradi- 
tion were little more than fable. The Sunna as a whole, he would write 
in a controversial 1906 article, was only ever meant for the Arabs of the 
Prophet's time. From that point on, Muslims were meant to rely on the 
Qur'an and reason alone to find their way. 

Another protege of Rida in Cairo, Mahmud Abu Rayya, was similarly 
disturbed by the supposedly sahih Hadiths he read. The Hadith of the Fly 
was found in the Sahih al-Bukhari, which Sunnis claimed was 'the most 
authentic book after the Qur'an.' The book and its compiler, Bukhari, who 
had been a leading student of Ibn Hanbal, enjoyed almost sacred status. Yet 
another troubling Hadith from this collection told how, when the Devil 
hears the call to prayer, 'he flees, farting.' Abu Rayya could not accept that 
the Prophet would say something so vulgar and ridiculous. Still another 
Hadith quoted the Prophet telling his followers that, after the sun set, it 


went before the throne of God and prostrated itself. This Hadith came 
from the Sahih Muslim, a Hadith collection considered second only to 1 , 
Sahih al-Bukhari in reliability. Like the Hadith of the Fly, this report was 
clearly scientifically impossible. Sidqi died of typhus in 1920, at the age 
of only thirty-nine. Writing about his late classmate, Abu Rayya recalled 
how he had been called a kafir, an infidel, for doubting a Hadith from 
Sahih al-Bukhari. 2 


Medieval Muslim scholars had looked at these same Hadiths with perplex- 
ity. Ninth-century Mutazila scholars had dismissed the Hadith of the Fly 
as absurd because it seemed rationally impossible for both a disease and 
its cure to coexist on the same object. Atwelfth- century Sunni judge from 
Cordoba wondered what the Devil 'farting' could mean, and medieval 
ulama found the Hadith of the Sun Prostrating puzzling. How does the 
sun, an orb, prostrate itself? It has no knees or joints. Like Aristotle and 
Augustine, Muslim scholars knew the earth was a sphere. 3 In the course of 
one of their basic duties - calculating prayer times in various locales - they 
had noticed that the sun is always visible somewhere, rising and setting 
at different times depending on latitude and longitude. When would it be 
free to engage in this prostration before the throne of God? 

Though Sidqi, Abu Rayya and these medieval scholars pondered the 
same perplexing segments of scripture, their reactions could hardly have 
been more different. Whereas Hadiths like that of the Fly collapsed Sidqi's 
and Abu Rayya's faith in the reliability of the Hadith corpus as a whole, 
they had posed little threat to medieval Sunnis. These classical scholars 
had dismissed the Mutazila's objection to the Hadith of the Fly as the 
byproduct of their heretical empowerment of human reason over a sub- 
mission to revealed text and divine knowledge. Medieval Sunnis further 
affirmed that Hadiths authenticity and the truth of its contents by noting 
that antidotes to snake venom often used flesh from the snake itself. The 
Cordoban judge pondering Satan's flatulence noted that it might well be 
a rhetorical device intended to express the Devil's intense hatred for the 
call to the remembrance of God. Others speculated that perhaps this was 
a desert allusion to his rapid flight, just as horses inevitably break wind 
if they bolt into a sudden run (a fact omitted in films, no doubt due to its 


undramatic effect). 4 While Sidqi and Abu Rayya agonized over what they 
could only conclude was a crude medieval forgery foisted on the masses 
before the discoveries of modern astronomy, the prominent thirteenth- 
century Damascene scholar Nawawi concluded that the Hadith of the Sun 
Prostrating must be referring to a metaphorical prostration - the sun's 
submission to God's will through the order of His creation. As the Qur'an 
reads in a highly poetic passage: 'The stars and the trees bow down' (55:6). 

Sometimes medieval exegetes simply admitted that they had no answers 
to explain perplexing Hadiths. But this was their failing, they felt, and 
no more than an unsmoothed wrinkle in the pages of scripture. In the 
fifteenth century, Ibn Hajar convened his finest students in Cairo to assist 
him in completing his monumental, fifteen-volume commentary onSahih 
al-Bukhari. When they came to a Hadith recounting how 'God created 
Adam, and he was sixty arms tall,' and that, after Adam fell, 'mankind has 
continued to shrink since that time,' Ibn Hajar noticed a problem. The 
houses he had seen carved out of cliffs by ancient, bygone peoples were 
the same size as those in his own time. Their inhabitants had not been any 
taller than his fellow Cairenes. Ibn Hajar admitted frankly that 'to this day, 
I have not found how to resolve this problem' and promptly moved on to 
the next Hadith. s 

For the pre-modern ulama, problematic or confusing Hadiths were 
interpretive challenges to be overcome with the confidence of mandarins 
who had inherited God's revelation and labored to understand it fully. 
For Sidqi and Abu Rayya, they precipitated a clash between, on the one 
hand, the certainty espoused by the new behemoth of 'modern science' 
and the hegemony of globalizing Western sensibilities, and on the other, 
a suspicious, archaic religious tradition, a tradition that must have been 
the work of men. 

Like all faith communities, Muslims' approach to their scriptures has 
been influenced by their epistemological worldview. This is that lens that a 
person or group of like-minded people habitually apply to the world around 
them, to the history they read and the beliefs they hold. It dictates what 
are the primary truths against which other claims and data are tested. In 
the epistemological worldview of modern Western historians, events must 
be explained through material or social causes. Claims of some miracu- 
lous occurrence must be fabrications or delusions. Yet, inconceivable for 
academics in today's disenchanted world, in the seventeenth century even 
the most skeptical Jesuit historians had no compunction reporting that 


they had s een the blood of a long-dead saint liquefy again before their very 
eyes. They had expected no less. To them, the world was still a theatre|of 
God's power where miracles could occur. 6 

For an individual or a community, a commitment to the primacy of 
scripture opens up endless possibilities for its interpretation and facilitates 
reconciling it with elements of outside truth. Medieval Muslim scholars 
interpreted the Qur'an and Hadiths so that they would remain true both 
in relation to one another and to the rational and empirical realities that 
the ulama perceived outside these texts. Any Qur'anic verse or Hadith 
whose literal meaning seemed problematic could be negotiated. When a 
community's commitment to scripture is shaken or lost, however, crises 
of contradiction quickly emerge and threaten the canonical worldview 
built around those scriptures. Its weakness can be revealed in quotidian 
moments of common life, as in the case of a British schoolboy who, in the 
1880s, heard that 'Darwin had disproved the Bible.' 7 


The Gospels, Shakespeare's plays and the Constitution of the United States 
are not just revered tomes, mere works of literature or meditations on law 
and justice. Each is part of a canon, a set of texts deemed authoritative 
by its community of readers. For Western European civilization from the 
fourth century until the early modern period, the Bible was the recognized 
vehicle of God's truth. It remains so for many to this day. Shakespeare's 
works are the measure of literary achievement in the English language, 
graciously bearing aphorisms on love and mortality. His grammar cannot 
be 'wrong ' or his neologisms cheap. For Americans, the Constitution is the 
prized and venerated source of order and good governance. It is framed 
in the modern museum-temple, the conscript fathers who drafted it lion- 
ized anew with every heavy biography devoted to one of their number. 

Canonical texts may not always be above criticism, but critiquing them 
has its limits and its costs. Although criticizing Shakespeare's oeuvre is 
permitted in the academy, one cannot say it is bad English. Some might 
argue for revisions to the American Constitution on matters such as 
the right to bear arms, but no American in public life could say that the 
Constitution is not suited for running a garden club, let alone a nation. 
Such opinions would be dismissed as absurd if not offensive within the 


canonical communities whose very identities are formed in part around 
these texts. 

The possibility of trenchant biblical criticism today only highlights the 
Bible's previously fortressed canonical status. Before serious criticism of 
the scripture began in Germany in the late eighteenth century, one could 
not say that the Bible was historical invention or utter nonsense (at least, 
not without dire consequences). The appearance of the historical-critical 
study of the Bible and the fall of the Bible from scriptural canon to mere 
literature among scholars has been one of the great events of modern 
Western history. 

Canonical works are assumed to be complete wholes endlessly pregnant 
with useful meaning. Virgil was the poet of imperial Rome, that idea of 
an eternal city that has long outlasted the city's greatness itself, the vision 
of sovereign glory to which Jove gave 'empire without end.' Virgil guided 
Dante through the Underworld and Purgatory in a world ruled by Rome's 
Christian, Germanic heirs, and he still protects protagonists in Hollywood 
adventures (The Core, 2003). When the emperor Constantine converted 
to Christianity, he expounded publicly on how Virgil had predicted the 
coming of Christ (Gibbon muses sarcastically that Virgil was 'one of the 
most successful missionaries of the gospel'), and later in the Middle Ages 
men of letters would flip to random lines in the Aeneid in superstitious 
divination. 8 All this despite the fact that Virgil had left his famous poem 

The flawless relevance of the Aeneidinhetes because, when communi- 
ties endow certain texts or bodies of material with authority, they commit 
themselves to interpreting those texts with charity, to extending them the 
benefit of the doubt. The notion of a canonical work or 'a classic' is inti- 
mately linked to a commitment to making sense of that text and affirming 
its worth to the community. 

When a work becomes canonical its internal order and logic are guar- 
anteed by the collective will of the canonical community. Its consonance 
with the known truths and reality outside the text is similarly committed 
to. What Frank Kermode referred to as the Principle of Complementarity 
is the willed assumption of the community that has invested value and 
meaning in a text that the text must make sense within itself and against 
its extratextual surroundings; 9 It cannot suffer from senseless internal 
contradictions. It cannot clash with what is known to be true outside the 
text. What the biblical scholar Moshe Halbertal termed the Principle of 


Charity is the willingness of a canonical community to read its texts in 
the best possible light and in a way that defuses or elides contradictions 
with truth or order. 10 

The charity extended to a text reflects its canonicity and can increase 
as its status solidifies. By the third century bce, the orally transmitted 
•epics of the Iliad and the Odyssey were already centerpieces of the Greek 
cultural landscape. The literary scholar Zenodotus, the first chief librarian 
of the Library of Alexandria, worked to compile the first critical edition 
of Homer's epics. This was a fluid point in the two texts' development, 
and when Zenodotus came across verses that he felt described the gods 
inappropriately he simply rejected the verses as inauthentic or offered 
a 'correct' amendment. 11 In the centuries that followed, many Greco- 
Roman philosophers came to look to the Iliad and Odyssey as more than 
literary works; they saw them as primordial storehouses of philosophi- 
cal wisdom. Now endowed treasuries of meaning, they required even 
more charitable readings. The many and bizarre behaviors still ascribed 
to the gods in these two epics had to be reconciled with extratextual 
ethical teachings. Stoic philosophers such as Heraclitus (writing around 
100 ce) thus read scandalous behavior by the gods allegorically. Mars' 
and Venus' adultery in the Iliad represented the peaceful melding of 
Strife and Love. 12 

To those outside the canonical culture, all this can seem like oblivious- 
ness or naivete. Outsiders see gross imperfections or jarring inconsistencies 
in the text. But within the canonical community a canonical text cannot 
include desultory details or oversights, regardless of how clearly these 
protrude to outsiders. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus' capture at Gethsemane 
is punctuated by the odd mention of a 'young man' wearing a linen shirt 
who is also grabbed by the Roman guards but who flees naked, leaving 
the gown behind (Mark 14:51-52). Random and pointless to some, this 
detail cannot be so within the worldview of the biblical canon. It must 
carry meaning and must accord with the greater narrative of Jesus' life, 
teachings and the drama of his death and resurrection. Biblical scholars 
and exegetes have devoted great efforts to unlocking the meaning behind 
this youth's appearance, with some associating him with the robed youth 
who tells the women who discover Christ's empty tomb that he has risen. 
A medieval manuscript, supposedly written by Clement of Rome, offers 
the explanation that this episode is a vestige of a second, fuller Gospel 
that Mark had written after leaving Rome for Alexandria. The manuscript 


includes a segment telling how Jesus had earlier resurrected the youth and 
tolcl him to meet him that night to be baptized, still wearing his burial 
gown. 13 

As Augustine, Saadia Gaon and the Muslim legal theorists appreci- 
ated, the sources of knowledge for 'Peoples of the Book' are scripture, 
the light of reason and the perceived realities of the outside world. But 
God's word intrudes into man's world as no equal partner. Revealed 
scripture makes unmatched claims to truth and authority over society. 
Alongside scripture, members of society also identify truths and reali- 
ties outside its pages, either in first principles of reason, experienced 
observation or embedded cultural norms. Which source is supreme, 
requiring the others to be tailored to its claims? The answer to this 
question determines the canonicity of scripture within a community's 
epistemological worldview. 

A canon of texts is stable as long as it holds its weight against the 
other sources. The great danger looming over a canon is the turning of 
a new epistemological era, when the community no longer grants its 
text sufficient charity. The early fourth-century Church Father Eusebius 
believed with all his heart that the Old Testament was revelation prefig- 
uring the coming of Christ. He was still the child of the Greco-Roman 
milieu, however, and Abraham's face-to-face encounter with Yahweh in 
the Book of Genesis (18:1-2) presented a problem. Eusebius felt that 
'Reason would never allow that the uncreated and immutable substance 
of Almighty God should be changed into the form of a man.' But neither 
can he allow that 'Scripture should falsely invent such a tale.' Eusebius 
therefore concludes that Abraham must not have encountered God 
Himself, but rather the Logos - the constructive and rational emana- 
tion of God in creation. 14 

Thirteen hundred years later, the iconoclastic Jewish philosopher 
Spinoza (d. 1677) refused to extend such charity to the Old Testament s 
anthropomorphisms. For him, the text was not the preserved word of God. 
It did not deserve to be made sense of at any expense. It was dishonest 
chauvinism, he argued, to insist on reconciling the Bible with regnant 
extratextual philosophies. The Old Testament was suited to a specific place 
and time, for an ancient people who did not find anthropomorphism or 
the admissions of a 'jealous God' objectionable. That world found noth- 
ing odd about forbidding cooking a lamb in its mother's milk, though 
Augustine thought the verse too absurd to be anything but allegory and 


Maimonides could only explain it as an ethical reminder not to cook an 
animal in a substance that should have nourished it. 15 Spinoza dismissed 
figurative interpretations for biblical passages like this as the affected 
gymnastics of readers whose notions of truth had moved on beyond the 
ancient Hebrews but whose sentimental attachment to the canon left them 
unwilling to read its texts honestly. 

Spinoza represented the beginning of a new epistemological era in 
how the Bible and religion would be viewed in the West. For him, true 
religion is attainable by reason and is no more than the eternal moral truths 
of loving God and one's neighbor. The Bible was a book born in history 
like any other. 16 Eusebius' teacher, the great third-century Alexandrian 
exegete Origen, had acknowledged that the Old Testament contained 
many passages that, if read literally, would be heretical or absurd. He thus 
read almost the whole Old Testament as moral, spiritual or Christological 
allegory. The impossible and ridiculous episodes of the Old Testament 
existed precisely so that believers would know that the book should not 
be read literally. 17 By contrast, in some of the first openly patronizing (and 
posthumously published) writings about the Bible, the eighteenth-century 
German scholar Hermann Reimarus mocked as childish and ridiculous 
this biblical world of seas boiling, asses talking and men flying through the 
air. Like Spinoza, Reimarus demanded that the Bible be taken for what it 
said, not what Christians extracted from its passages as the 'true,' intended 
meaning. Both Spinoza and Reimarus acknowledged that the Bible might 
reflect greater moral or spiritual truths present outside its pages, but its 
laughable text certainly did not contain them. 18 

Of course, canonical cultures are not monolithic. There are always her- 
etics and contrarians, and private doubts abound even among the publicly 
faithful. Cicero could not understand how two Roman augurs, charged 
with state soothsaying duties, could refrain from laughing when they met 
one another. Yet canons and their infrastructures reveal themselves plainly. 
When we look at the frame of reference within which a history is told or 
unfolds, we can sense clearly the basic legitimizing principles of a system, 
and we can make out an epistemological era's foundations. For all the 
superciliousness of the Roman elite, the political, legal and cultural world 
of Rome was still played out under the auspices of Jupiter Capitolinus, 
and Cicero required skeptical priests to keep their debates over the gods 
private. As Gibbon mused, they 'concealed the sentiments of an atheist 
under sacerdotal robes,' but they concealed them all the same. 19 Similarly, 


Voltaire did not want to share his skepticism about the Bible with the 
masses of the poor, for whom Christianity provided both a rare comfort 
and 'that necessary fear that prevents secret crimes.' 20 

Medieval Islamic civilization boasted its share of renowned heretics and 
freethinkers. The eleventh-century poet Ma'arri gained acclaim for his cyni- 
cal agnosticism, jibing that "The people of the earth are of two types: those 
with reason and no religion, and religious folk with no reason at all.' But 
such skeptics still abided by or concealed themselves within the confines 
of Islam's canonical culture. Ibn Sina (Avicenna) upheld for the masses the 
Shariah ban on wine while holding that he, as a philosopher, could enjoy 
it. The grand vizier of the Ottoman sultan Sulayman the Magnificent was 
not convinced of Islam's exclusive claim to salvation, and he shared this 
in private. But he still carried out his duties to prosecute a jihad against 
the enemies of his religion and endowed the gorgeous Riistem Pasha 
Mosque to be constructed in his name. 21 The very fact that we still speak 
comprehensibly about 'Islam' as a geopolitical unit or the 'Muslim world' 
reminds us that, until well into the modern period, this epistemological 
system saw no new viable framework for society and politics. It remains 
the world of the Qur'an and the Prophet. 22 

Neither do epistemological eras transition overnight. Western civiliza- 
tion did not progress from purely religious to purely secular. It has never 
been purely either. But the dominant canonical culture built around the 
Bible and the public cult of Christianity was the overarching framework 
of the medieval West, and it faltered irreversibly in the mid-nineteenth 
century. In France in particular 'the hour was come' even sooner, con- 
cluded Carlyle. And it came with startling speed. Philosophism and the 
French Revolution tamed a Church that just decades earlier had been able 
to deprive Jansenists of a Christian burial. In Britain, the very universities 
that once required conformity to religious orthodoxy and that elaborated its 
details began producing minds who argued for the Bible's and Christianity's 
marginalization in public and even private life. In the 1840s Queen Victoria 
publicly attended the theatre in Lent - unheard of - and in 1862 no less 
than a bishop of the Church of England published a book claiming that 
the Pentateuch was 'fictitious from beginning to end.' 23 Islamic thought in 
the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has shown how fierce resistance 
to the fall of a canonical culture can be, but this fierceness belies the great 
changes that may well be at hand. 



Sidqi, the young Egyptian doctor, and his intellectual comrade Abu Rayya 
seemed to teeter on the edge of an epistemological era. What separated 
them from their counterparts among the medieval ulama was not neces- 
sarily a lack of faith or a desire to believe. In fact, swimming against the 
tide of modernity, Sidqi may have been more tenaciously committed to 
Islam than a scholar like Nawawi (d. 1277), who lived celibately (unusual 
for a Muslim scholar) and cerebrally, writing and teaching his whole life 
in a Damascus madrasa. What differed was what formed the patent back- 
ground of reality in their respective worlds and where they identified their 
storehouses of truth. What separated them was the extent to which they 
were committed to the maintenance of a canon of scripture. Surrounded 
by reverence for the Shariah, respected universally as a leading member 
of the ulama in a city studded with madrasas, confident in a secure Abode 
of Islam that had recently recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders and 
whose Mongol interlopers would soon convert to Islam themselves, 
Nawawi never had cause to doubt the eternal veracity of the Quran and 
its interpretive tradition. 

Sidqi, on the other hand, stares back at us in anxious discomfort. He 
poses nervously before an image-capturing device invented by an alien, 
infidel civilization, which occupied his country but whose sciences he 
had learned eagerly and whose vest and bowtie had become irresistible 
markers of status among Egyptians. The Europeans touring Cairo in his day 
offered dismissive insights like 'Islam and good order are incompatible,' and 
modernized Egyptians left the ulama aghast with casual calls for laws and 
mores to be based on modern customs, not on the Sunna of the Prophet. 
Other young effendis less pious than Sidqi freely mocked the Sunna as 
'stupid' and 'evil,' a blasphemy unthinkable only years earlier. 24 In Sidqi's 
photograph, only his fez and moustache remain to mark his 'Muslim-ness' 
in an ensemble, typical of young Egyptian professionals, that symbolized 
an attempt to achieve a hybrid, modern Islam. Sidqi longed to cling to his 
religion and to the civilization it had created, but for him, and for many, 
its canonical culture had been shattered. Islam had to be rescued from its 
sunken and ill-fitted medieval shell. It had now to conform to precepts as 
undeniable as the bowtie: those of the modern West. 

In Shah Wali Allah's day, two great camps of Sunni thought contended 
with one another: those we might term the Sunni traditionalists, who 


believed that the institutions of the triad heritage of the madhhabs, specula- 
tive theology and Sufi orders represented the true embodiment of Islam- 
and the iconoclastic ' SalafT revivalists, who called for bypassing what they 
considered rigid and often misguided traditions to return to the Qur'an 
and Hadiths, the pure Islam of the Prophet's community. 

Figures like Sidqi and Abu Rayya introduced a new school of thought, 
that of Islamic modernism. It was built on the conclusion that true Islam 
could only be saved by radically overhauling the entirety of pre- modern 
Islamic tradition. Those who took Islamic modernist directions believed 
that the modern world had brought an unprecedented clarity to the true, 
original and eternal nature of their religion. Islam had always been modern, 
they contended, and it had to be returned to its proper form. As Abu Rayya 
once boasted, 'I am more knowledgeable than Abu Hanifa or Shafi'i.' He 
announced that it was his mission to rescue true Islam from its medieval 
darkness. 25 It was no coincidence that this 'true Islam' accorded with the 
main sensibilities of the omnipresent modern West. 


Medieval Muslim scholars understood well that communication through 
the medium of language was inseparably influenced by the assumptions that 
surrounded the speaker and their audience. In the case of God's revelation 
to Muhammad, connection to this formative moment of communication 
was increasingly strained as the audience receded further and further away 
from the speaker's voice in space and time. The conservative ethos of the 
ulama's culture, with its chains of transmission and decrial of 'heretical 
innovation in religion,' served to anchor them in the original moment of 
God s address to humankind and in its founding constellation of assump- 
tions. Their task was to preserve the immediacy of the revelation in later 
times, to draw on their ties back to the origins of their tradition and grasp 
the intentions of the Lawgiver. 

The conviction that the Qur'an and its application in the Sunna together 
embodied truth, and thus had to be read in that light, was core to the 
pre-modern Islamic interpretive tradition. The Qur'an describes itself 
as a book that 'falsehood does not approach either from before or from 
behind, revelation from the Most Wise, the Most Praised' (41:42)-, the 
Prophet's Sunna, as contained in the totality of the Hadith corpus, is in his 


own words 'a path gleaming white, its night like its day.' The assumption of 
the infallibility of the combined Quran and Sunna and their congruence 
with truth is so ubiquitous in the Islamic tradition that it rarely appears 
explicitly. One does find it, however, articulated in Sunni legal theory 
through the notion of lahn al-khitab, or the 'perceptive understanding 
of a textual address.' Shared by both the Majority (Ash'ari) and Hanafi 
schools of Sunni legal theory, this was 'the interpretation of a text in the 
manner on which its truth depends.' To paraphrase the eleventh-century 
Ash'ari legal theorist Juwayni, lahn al-khitab is the interpretation of a text 
that makes it congruent with other truths. 26 

Shah Wali Allah's intellectual history showed how the Sunni interpretive 
tradition was both unified and polyglot. It coalesced from many voices into 
a system of agreed-upon certainties from which increasingly attenuated 
probabilities extended in diverse but ordered branches. Its sturdy core, 
formed from the great roots of scripture and early practice, in turn brought 
order to their more erratic strands. As Nawawi explains, when the ulama 
have arrived at certainty about a stance derived from the Quran and Sunna 
as a whole, all individual Qur'anic verses and Hadiths must be interpreted 
to accord with it. Origen and Augustine would have understood him per- 
fectly. He was restating the central pillar of scriptural hermeneutics, the 
reciprocal movement in which, as Leo Lefebure describes, 'We interpret 
the part in light of the whole, and then we reinterpret the whole in light 
of our new understanding of the part.' 27 

To maintain concord within their interpretive system, the medieval 
ulama read an address by God or the Prophet with the understanding 
that 'it was permitted to derive from within the text some implication that 
specifies its meaning.' For example, the Qur'an orders Muslims to perform 
ablutions before their prayers if they have broken their state of ritual 
purity by using the bathroom, or 'If you have touched women' (addressing 
Muslims as a whole but using men as examples, 5:6). The ulama, though, 
exempted touching close family members, such as one's mother or father. 
They did so because the Qur'anic text here implies that the issue at hand is 
sexual arousal. This implication is derived from the overarching system of 
values and rules communicated by the Qur'an and Sunna, of which every 
specific 'text' (Qur'anic verse or Hadith) forms a part. 28 

Ihere are plentiful counterparts in the Hadiths. One of the groups 
condemned most vehemently in the Qur'an is the Munafiqun, 'The 
Hypocrites' of Medina who entered Islam formally but who worked 


openly to undermine Muhammad's message and leadership. In God's 
eyes, they were the worst of the unbelievers, and the Prophet was even 
forbidden to pray for them at their funerals. Labeling someone aMunafiq 
or hypocrite is.thus no small matter in Islam. In one famous Hadith, the 
Prophet warns his followers that "The signs of the hypocrite are three- if 
he speaks, he lies; if he makes a promise, he breaks it; if he is entrusted 
with something, he betrays.' 

This boded very badly for Muslims. Few humans can really hope to be 
free of such faults throughout the course of a lifetime. Does God, then, 
condemn anyone who lies, breaks promises or violates a trust as severely 
as He dooms hypocrites in the Qur'an? A ninth- century Hadith scholar 
who studied with Bukhari and whose own collection of Hadiths serves as 
a document of early Sunni Islam, offers a clarification. Abu 'Isa Tirmidhi 
reminds us of Hasan Basri's explanation of this Hadith. He had noted the 
difference between 'Hypocrisy of Action' and 'Hypocrisy of Disbelief.' 
The latter only existed during the time of the Prophet. It was insidious 
dissimulation in the very face of God's Messenger, and it was this hypoc- 
risy that the Qur'an condemned so stridently. For the rest of humanity, 
hypocrisy was simply one's actions not living up to one's commitments 
or stated values. 29 There was no clear statement in the Qur'an or Hadiths 
that directed Hasan or Tirmidhi to this interpretation. There seems only 
to have been a profound belief, drawn from the aggregate ethos of early 
Islamic teachings, that the hypocrisy described in the Qur'an and the 
hypocrisy confronting everyday Muslims were two distinctly different 
species. It was not fair to tar both with the same brush. 

As these examples suggest, the charity that Muslim scholars granted 
passages from the Qur'an and Hadiths in order to read them as part of a 
greater, encompassing system of truth meant that their literal meaning 
was often set aside altogether. The Qur'an states that 'The polytheists are 
naught but impure (najas), so let them not approach the Inviolable Mosque 
[of Mecca] after this, their year...' (9:28). Some early scholars like Hasan 
Basri had leaned toward a literal interpretation of this verse, advising 
Muslims to perform ablutions after shaking hands with a polytheist. By 
the eleventh century, however, the ulama had come to consensus on the 
doctrinal maxim of Adamic purity' (taharat al-adami), based in part on 
the Prophet's interactions with unbelievers and his allowing them into his 
mosque. Non-Muslims, like Muslims, are thus inherently pure, and their 
sweat, tears and saliva are ritually innocuous. As Nawawi explained, the 


Qur'anic verse was referring to the impurity of polytheistic beliefs.™ This 
verse was thus shifted out of its literal sense to accord with the overarching 
system of legal principles established by its interpreters. That one had to 
move from the evident meaning of a text to a secondary meaning because 
compelling evidence required it was known as Ta'wil, or interpretation. 

Even the earliest Muslims understood that literal meanings could, in 
fact, be dangerous. In a series of verses chastising the Jews and Christians 
of Medina for not following the sacred laws revealed to them or submit- 
ting to the Prophet's judgment, the Qur'an declares: 'And whoever does 
not rule by what God has revealed, truly they are the unbelievers' (5:44). 
This verse has echoed violently among militant revivalist groups in the 
modern period. It literally condemns as kafirs - unbelievers - those who 
do not rule by the law revealed by God, the Shariah. The Companion Ibn 
Abbas, who was so prized for his exegesis of the Qur'an's language that 
he was dubbed "The Rabbi of this Nation,' offered a crucial specification. 
'It is not the unbelief that they think it is, namely the unbelief that places 
someone outside the Muslim community. Rather it is an unbelief o ther than 
that unbelief Distancing this Qur'anic verse from accusations of apostasy 
was crucial in the first decades of Islam, which saw the emergence of the 
extremist Kharijite sect. This group believed that anyone who committed a 
serious sin was an apostate deserving of death (if someone really believed 
in God, how could they disobey Him?). Kharijites assassinated the fourth 
caliph, Ali bin Abi Talib, after accusing him of not ruling by God's decree. 
Ibn Abbas confronted the Kharijites with his explanations, and some four 
thousand eventually recanted their extremism. 31 

Empirical reality could also require figurative readings of scripture. 
As the elaborate references to the zodiac in Homer's epics remind us, our 
modern esteem for the scientific method should not obscure the manifest 
reality of nature in pre-modern life. The Qur'an referred to both its own 
verses and the details of God's ordered creation in nature as complementary 
'signs' (ay at) revealed together for man to ponder (45: 2-6). Augustine had 
preached the same to his congregation. 'Let your book be the divine page, 
that you may hear it. Let your book be the world, that you may behold it.' 
Like Augustine, the medieval ulama were careful to read the two sets of 
signs in accordance with one another. 32 ' 

In the case of one Hadith found in Tirmidhi's canonical Hadith col- 
lection, the facts of nature required abandoning the literal meaning for a 
figurative one. The Prophet is quoted as saying, 'Two months of festival 


do not fall short, Ramadan and Dhu'l-Hijja' (the month in which Hajj 
occurs). The Islamic calendar, prescribed in the Qur'an, is a lunar one in 
which the new moon appears either every twenty-nine or every thirty 
days depending on when the moon is sighted. A month 'falling short' 
thus generally refers to it containing only twenty-nine days. Like other 
months, Ramadan and Dhu'l-Hijja frequently 'fall short.' The Hadith is 
thus literally and undeniably contrary to fact. Ibn Hanbal had therefore 
opined that it meant no year could pass when both of these months fell 
short (hardly true, other scholars objected). Tirmidhi leaned toward the 
simpler metaphor that, even when these two months 'fall short,' they are 
nevertheless 'complete' in their spiritual value. 33 

Human nature can be as empirically daunting as planetary motion. 
In one famous Hadith, the Prophet proclaims that 'None of you believes 
until I am dearer to him than his parent and his child.' This is a tall order 
indeed. Many Sufis to this day seek to achieve this level of devotion to the 
Prophet's person and precedent. Yet even an unusually pious individual 
would find it difficult to love the Prophet more than their own parent or 
child. Khattabi (d. 998), a pioneering Shafi'i legal theorist and theologian 
from Bost (modern-day Lashkar Gah in Afghanistan), explains that the 
'love' referred to in this Hadith is not our naturally occurring affection 
(hubb al-taV). Rather, the Prophet intended it as 'love by choice' (hubb 
al-ikhtiyar). Khattabi concludes this because a person's love of himself 
and his kin is part of his nature, and 'there is no way to overcome that.' 
Love by choice, however, is the conscious decision made by one's higher 
functions for reasons that may seem superficially unnatural but that are 
truly best, much like the sick person who chooses to take bitter medicine 
in order to be cured. Thus, it is as if the Prophet is saying that one's faith 
is not perfect until 'he prefers what I choose for him over the folly desired 
by his parents or children.' 34 


One could object that these readings of the Qur'an and Hadiths contradict 
what the texts explicitly 'say.' But texts themselves do not say anything. 
What they say and what they mean is determined by the reader in the 
unavoidable and sometimes unconscious act of interpretation. Although 


often associated with postmodern literary theory, this empowerment of 
the reader's interpretation over the author's intent is no novel assertion. 
Responding to the rhetorical query 'What is the Torah?' Talmudic rabbis 
replied simply, 'It is the interpretation of the Torah.' Even if God himself 
voices disagreement from the heavens, the Torah means what the major- 
ity of the rabbis say it means. 35 Erasmus remarked on the counterintuitive 
fact that it is the interpreter of God's words who truly wields the 'force of 
divine law.' The caliph Ali echoed this. Confronting the Kharijite rebels, 
who based their violent claims on what the Qur'an 'said/ Ali alerted them 
that 'This Qur'an is but lines written between two covers, it does not speak, 
rather it is but men who speak for it.' 36 

With speaker and listener separated by an interpretive gulf, there is no 
escaping the inherent ambiguity in language. An intended meaning may 
be conjured by the speaker in light of how he or she assumes the audi- 
ence will understand it, but actual meaning is ultimately defined by the 
hegemonic power of the audience's worldview. There is no way to deny 
these influences or meld them seamlessly. Once you speak or write, it is 
the audience who decide your meaning. It is the station to which they have 
assigned the text they read that determines its worth. 

No use of language, regardless of how much care is taken in crafting 
a phrase, is unambiguous or immune to (mis)interpretation. Although 
he wrote much of the United States Constitution, James Madison still 
argued that the meaning of laws in the new republic could not be fixed 
with certainty until they were contested and discussed. All laws, he wrote, 
regardless of how finely worded, 'are considered more or less obscure and 
equivocal' until they are interpreted. Language is an imperfect medium 
for communicating the ideas of one mind to the mind of another. Madison 
offered that, 'When the Almighty himself condescends to address mankind 
in their own language, his meaning, luminous as it must be, is rendered dim 
and doubtful by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated.' 37 

This does not mean that there are no boundaries to interpretation 
or that no interpretation is wrong. But those boundaries are set by the 
community reading the text, not by something intrinsic in the text or by 
the fact of the text itself. The allowable distance between what appears 
to be the literal meaning of the text and its outer limit of interpretation 
is determined by the charity extended to it. For the Qur'an and Hadiths, 
interpretations were valid as long as they accorded with the overall mes- 
sage of God and His prophet as understood by the ulama. To the Muslim 


community, the Qur'an was 'not touched by falsehood, neither from 
before nor from behind,' so interpretation was allowed as long as it ren- 
dered a meaning understood as true by that community. Muslim scholars 
expressed this- through a general principle, dubbed Q_anun al-Ta'wil (the 
Rule of Interpretation), which required adhering to the evident meaning 
of a text until some significant evidence required otherwise. Sometimes 
violations of this rule are called out, and ulama have at times dismissed 
each other's interpretive arguments as 'affected' (fihi takalluf) or 'arbitrary' 
(fihi ta'assuf) when they deviate too far from the evident meaning or do 
so without cause. 

The texts of the Qur'an and Hadiths provide immensely rich interpre- 
tive ground. The two scriptures are heterogeneous, one the word of God 
and the other of an inspired man. They run from rock solid in authenticity 
to little more than rumor. They span two decades of the Prophet's career, 
and are thus elastic in their points of reference. In their interactions within 
themselves, with each other and in the florid mold of classical Arabic, the 
Qur'an and Hadiths are inexhaustibly polyvalent. Moreover, Hadiths were 
not merely reports of the Prophet's speech. They also included descrip- 
tions of his conduct, practice and even his silence. If an action was done 
in his presence or some opinion was voiced and he remained silent, this 
was understood as conveying his approval. 

The type of interpretive activity we have seen so far was carried out 
almost instinctively by the first generations of Muslim scholars, such as 
Hasan Basri. By the early 800s, Shafi'i had offered his singular contributions 
to the science of weighing evidence, and by the late 900s the Sunni science 
of legal theory was reaching maturation. Its study of moral epistemology 
and the rational derivation of law from scripture took as its main subjects 
the great questions of ascertaining the historical reliability of scriptural 
texts and then mining their meaning. 

Medieval Muslim ulama approached interpreting the Qur'an and 
Hadiths via two axes, that of attestation (thubut) and that of indication 
(dilala), each spanning the range of epistemological reliability (between 
doubt, probability and certitude). Attestation' was the historical reliability 
and authenticity of a proof text; a verse from the Qur'an was automatically 
considered 'certain in its attestation' because of the holy book's historical 
intactness, while the vast majority even of sahih Hadiths were only 'prob- 
able in their attestation.' They were simply not widely transmitted enough 
to create total philosophical certainty regarding their authenticity. Those 


Hadiths that were declared da if (weak) or, more egregiously, mawdu 
(clear forgeries) fell short even of that level. | 

'Indication' concerned the ambiguity or precision of a text's meaning. 
Qur'anic commands like 'Give in charity from what We have granted you' 
are only 'probable in indication' even if they are historically authenticated. 
We know that God issued this command, but what does it mean? Do we 
give all our money, or only some? Do we give it every day or only once, 
and to whom? The Hadith 'A father is not punished by death for killing 
his child' is also 'probable in indication,' since it is unclear if it addresses 
all instances of infanticide. How would it relate to the Qur'anic command 
of 'A life for a life' (see chapter five)? The Hadith is also 'weak,' so it does 
not even reach the level of being 'probable in its attestation.' 

Knowing the indication (i.e., meaning) of the Qur'an and Hadiths 
ultimately rested on the ulama's understanding of the phenomenon of 
language, and this occupied a large portion of the science of legal theory. 
Books in this genre drew on the first science developed by Muslims, the 
study of Arabic grammar, to catalog types of speech and evaluate the ways 
in which grammar affected meaning. A particularly important issue was 
the division between the literal (haqiqa) and figurative (majaz) registers 
of language. The sentence 'The lion is the king of the jungle' uses 'lion' in 
its literal sense; 'The knight is the lion of the battlefield' uses it figuratively. 
Both the literal meanings and accepted figurative uses of words were set 
by their uses in the Islamic scriptures, pre-lslamic Arabic poetry and in 
the uncorrupted Arabic of the first century and a half of Islam. 

Much discussion was devoted to the various types of figurative speech: 
figurative 'reduction' (nuqsan), such as the Qur'anic command to 'Ask 
the village' (in other words, the people of the village, not the physical 
structures); metonymy (an example both in English and the Qur'an is 
'going to the bathroom' as metonymy for certain activities that take place 
therein); or by personification or metaphor of entity (istaara), like 'the 
wall wants to fall.' 38 

Of great importance was the question of how one should understand 
an imperative phrase in language. Although the dozens of leading ulama 
who dove into this debate often differed, a general conclusion emerged 
in the eleventh century that, all things being equal, an imperative com- 
mand was 1. general, 2. meant as an obligation (as opposed to a recom- 
mendation), 3. meant only one time (as opposed to performing the act 
more than once), 4. did not require immediate action and 5. implied an 


accompanying command for anything necessary to carry out the original 
command. 39 Prohibitions carried similar negative features. 

Context could alter any of these aspects, and the science of legal theory 
devoted volumes to evaluating and weighing the relationships between 
different units of communication. The ulama ruminated on the nature 
of 'general' ('amm) statements and what marked them, for example, the 
Arabic definite article 'the' (al-), a universal qualifier like 'all,' or a general 
pronoun such as 'him who' or 'whoever.' Looking at Hadiths, which often 
described the Prophet's actions and not his words, they concluded that 
his actions cannot convey general commands because their meaning is 
unclear. 40 

General speech was altered and opposed by 'specific' (khass) language, 
like the Qur'anic command to perform ablutions after touching members 
of the opposite sex, which was understood as not including close family 
members. Another type of specified language was 'delimited' (muqayyad), 
namely a phrase that denoted a particular, specified meaning but did not 
exclude all else. While close family members were totally excluded from 
the intended meaning of the above Qur'anic verse on touching, the Qur'an's 
'delimited' order to 'free a believing slave' in order to expiate certain sins 
did not mean that non-Muslim slaves are somehow excluded from the 
Qur'an's advocacy of manumission. 

Muslim scholars elaborating legal theory graded scriptural texts along a 
spectrum according to the clarity of their indication (dilala). An 'equivocal' 
(mujmal) text was so unclear that it could not be acted on without clarifica- 
tion (such as the command Tray!'). 'Evident' (zahir) texts had more than 
one possible interpretation, but one was what we would call the evident, 
immediate, common-sense meaning. If we hear a person calling out 'Help 
me ! ' from a lake, th at person might mean that they need investment advice. 
But it is most probable that they need rescue. Similarly, the 'impurity' of 
pagans in the Qur'an is figurative and not literal. Finally an 'unequivocal 
text' (nass) is one whose interpretation was ineluctable and could mean 
only what it seemed, like a proper name or a number like '3' or 5. 

Shifting away from the evident meaning of a passage or from the literal 
to the figurative registers in scripture lay at the root of many inter-Sunni 
disagreements. When adherents of the Sunni Maliki school of law ruled 
that a sale contract became final with verbal agreement of the parties and 
not, as the widely known Hadith stated, 'when the two parties part com- 
pany,' they invoked the shift from literal to figurative registers, from the 


evident to the derivative meaning. The 'parting company' mentioned in 
the Hadith, the Malikis held, meant 'parting through their verbal agree- 
ment,' not literally leaving one another's presence. Opponents responded 
by citing the Rule of Ta'wil and accusing the Malikis of a far-fetched 
interpretation: one cannot abandon the evident meaning of a text for no 
compelling reason. In the Arabic language of the Prophet's time, 'part- 
ing company' meant physically leaving someone's presence unless some 
evidence suggests otherwise. 

The Majority school of legal theory, developed out of Ash'ari's com- 
bination of Sunni traditionalism and Mutazila rationalism, envisioned an 
interpreting hierarchy of concentric spheres. Similar to the postmodern 
emphasis on the power of the interpreter/reader, the outer spheres con- 
trolled those within, and the outermost interpretive layer was the most 
powerful. Just as the translator exercises power over the speaker by deter- 
mining the meaning of a speech as he translates it, the Sunna controls the 
Qur'an because it is the lens through which the holy book is understood. 
The consensus of the ulama then controls the interpretation of the Sunna 
because it decides which understandings of the law ultimately enjoy total 
authority, and nothing supersedes it. Specified units of scripture super- 
sede the general in their authority because they act to clarify it, and the 
delimited supersedes the unqualified. In both cases, the former tells you 
the real, intended meaning. 

Interestingly, the Hanafi school of legal theory often took the opposite 
tack. It was rooted more closely in Abu Hanifa's original embrace of the 
Qur'an as the rock of authentic revelation in a sea of opinion and unsure 
Hadiths. Only the most reliable Hadiths could specify the Qur'an, and 
statements that could be acted on without specification held greater power 
than other items of scripture that sought to specify them. 

Differences in managing the relationship between general and specified 
passages from the Qur'an and Hadiths as well as their relationship with 
derived Shariah principles could lead to bitter divisions. The Salafi surge 
led by Ibn Taymiyya and militarized by some of the eighteenth-century 
revival movements objected forcefully to forms of worship engaged in by 
Sufi orders over and above Muslims' prescribed five daily prayers. These 
included group recitation of poems praising the Prophet, sessions chant- 
ing the names of God and sometimes swaying or dancing while doing so. 

The defenders of these practices justified them by pointing to Qur'anic 
verses such as 'Remember God often' and 'O you who believe, call God's 


peace and blessings down upon the Messenger most generously' They 
further noted an authenticated Hadith in which, after being told that he 
was the relative of Muhammad who physically resembled him the most 
the Prophet's cousin Ja'far began dancing on one leg in glee. The Prophet 
did not object. All this evidence, supporters of Sufi practices claimed, was 
general and unrestricted. God's commands to remember Him and praise 
the Prophet were unlimited, and the Prophet's condoning of Ja'far's dance 
showed that dancing for religious purposes was permissible. What, then, 
could be prohibited about pious Muslims gathering to repeat the names 
of God, praise the Prophet and sway as the heady airs of proximity to their 
Lord took control of them? 

On the contrary, ulama like Ibn Taymiyya who opposed such practices 
argued that worship was an inherently limited field of activity in Islam. 
'The assumption in matters of ritual worship is that something is forbid- 
den,' one of Ibn Taymiyya's influential students argued, 'until some textual 
evidence is provided justifying it.' The Qur'anic commands above were 
general, but in matters of ritual worship even something fitting under a 
general order was not legitimate unless the Prophet or a Companion had 
performed that act. Critics of Sufi rituals cited opinions like that of the 
Companion Hudhayfa, who taught, 'Do not engage in worship by any 
means not engaged in by the Companions of God's Messenger.' Evidence 
permitting one type of ritual action could not be used to allow similar 
forms by analogy. Ja'far had danced, but the Prophet's approval could only 
be interpreted as permitting those particular movements done by Ja'far, 
not dancing in general. 42 


When James Madison remarked on the ambiguity inherent in the use of 
language and the inevitability of interpretive exercise, he was discussing 
the precise, legal language of courts and legislatures in the former British 
colonies of America. This was a narrow linguistic field designed to articu- 
late law in all its obscurities and detail. The Qur'an, on the other hand, has 
never been a legal manual. Its language ranges from apocalyptic warning: 
about doomsday to mystical ruminations about man's longing for God; 
from broad ethical commands to, occasionally, more specific instructions 



on the division of inheritance and manslaughter. The Hadiths are often 
more exact in their formulations of duties and obligations, but they are stjll 
expressed in the idiomatic, highly rhetorical flourishes ofseventh-century 
Arabic. One of the chief interpretive challenges facingthe medieval ulama 
was thus deriving concrete laws and tenets of belief from scriptures more 
kerygma than Iegalese. 

The prophetic language of the Hadiths is consistently hyperbolic. We 
often find the phrase that someone who commits a certain sin or holds 
some incorrect belief Ts not from among us,' for example. 'Whoever car- 
ries arms against us is not from among us,' the Prophet warns in one such 
Hadith. Does this mean that a person committing this act ceases to be a 
Muslim, leaving the faith for doing so? Recognizing the hyperbolic flair 
in the Prophet's rhetoric, the medieval ulama understood this phrase as 
a type of preventative rebuke (zajr) and not a formal excommunication 
(takfir). Tirmidhi explains that this is not an accusation of unbelief but 
rather indicates that the person was simply 'not following the path of the 
Muslims' in committing such acts. 43 Condemning certain actions to perdi- 
tion is also common in Hadiths. 'Whatever [robes] extend lower than the 
ankles go into Hellfire,' the Prophet admonishes. This does not mean that 
the wearer is condemned to perdition. Khattabi explains that the Hadith 
should be interpreted as meaning that this action or habit is considered to 
be among the behaviors of people condemned to Hellfire. Furthermore, 
other Hadiths make clear the reason behind this declaration. Wearing one's 
robes so low that they drag on the ground was boasting about one's wealth, 
since it assumed that one had spare clothes and enough servants to wash 
the soiled ones. In one narration of this Hadith, the Prophet condemns 
'dragging one's clothes arrogantly in the dust' but excuses those whose 
robes droop low without that intention. 44 

The difficulty of mining legal content from rhetorical language con- 
tributed to divergent interpretations and sometimes lay at the root of 
bitter disputes among the medieval ulama. Horrified by what he saw as 
the saint worship prevalent among the Sufis who frequented the shrines 
and mosques of the 'Friends of God' in Damascus and its environs, Ibn 
Taymiyya interpreted the sahih Hadith 'Do not tighten your saddles (i.e., 
travel) except to three mosques: the Haram Mosque, the AI-Aqsa Mosque 
and my mosque' as a clear prohibition on traveling to any locations other 
than Mecca, Jerusalem and Medina with the intent of worshiping there. 
Khattabi, however, and most other ulama, had not taken this Hadith 


literally. Instead, they understood the Hadith as a tribute to the status of 
these great places of prayer. Khattabi felt that its legal import was that, if 
one had sworn an oath to pray in a specific mosque, praying in any mosque 
would fulfill it - except these three prophetic mosques. One had to fulfill 
one's oath to pray there. Others had interpreted the Hadith as meaning 
that one could not hold extended prayer vigils (i'tikaf) in any mosque 
other than these three. The Hadith seemed so hyperbolic that even Ibn 
Taymiyya had to squint through its rhetorical flair and shift it from its 
evident meaning. He still allowed traveling to other places for purposes 
of trade, study or just for visiting, provided the intention was not solely 
worshiping in a mosque or saint's tomb there. 45 


The Medinan scholar and descendant of the Prophet, Ja'far Sadiq, was one 
of the pillars of sacred knowledge in the eighth century, revered by Sunnis 
and Shiites alike. When he was asked how the Qur'an, 'despite the passage 
of generations, only increases in its freshness,' he replied, 'Because God 
did not make it for one specific time or one specific people, so it is new in 
every age, fresh for every people, until the Day of Judgment.' 46 To borrow 
a phrase from Frank Kermode, the holy book was stamped 'Licensed for 
exegesis.' The Muslim community came to an early consensus on treating 
the book as a revelation that spoke to those beyond its original audience. 
They deemed it, in the phrasing of modern ulama, 'good for all places 
and all times.' 

Interpreting the Qur'an's message simultaneously within history and 
outside of history presented a daunting challenge to the ulama. For them, 
it was both a book revealed over twenty-three years in a particular region 
and a source of eternal law. They could never deny that the Qur'an's verses 
were obviously revealed in time and often in specific contexts. Many verses 
pronounce on concrete, time-bound matters. "The power of AbuLahab will 
perish, and so will he perish,' the Qur'an declares, predicting the grizzly 
end of one of the Prophet's inveterate Meccan foes. Such a specific verse, 
referring to one mortal in one place, cannot be applied to any other person 
or case. Yet the holy book also contains innumerable verses that ring out 
like decreta for all time: A life for a life,' 'And do not kill the life that God 
has declared inviolable except by just right' (5:45, 6:151). 


More often, the valence of verses was not clear or agreed upon. Qur'anic 
verses rarely mention the historical circumstances that occasioned their 
revelation, and many verses could be read as either universal laws or 
particular instructions. They could appear to be one type to one school 
of ulama, but another school might conclude otherwise. The nature of 
Qur'anic commands and rulings has been endlessly debated and is one 
of the primary causes for the tremendous variety within Islamic law and 

Sunni legal theorists since the eleventh century have phrased the 
tension between the specificity or generality of Qur'anic verses as the 
tension between the 'Generality of the Language' ('umum al-lafz) and 
the 'Specificity of the Reason for Revelation' (khusus al-sabab). The 
capacity of the Qur'an to address audiences and circumstances beyond its 
Arabian context depended on the maxim, developed by these medieval 
legal theorists, that 'Consideration is granted to the Generality of the 
Language, not to the Specificity of the Reason for Revelation.' 47 'No com- 
pulsion in religion' (2:256) was a Qur'anic command revealed in Medina 
when a child from one of the Muslim families who had been educated in 
the town's Jewish schools decided to depart with the Jewish tribe being 
expelled from Medina. His distraught parents were told by God and the 
Prophet in this verse that they could not compel their son to stay. The verse, 
however, has been understood over the centuries as a general command 
that people cannot be forced to convert to Islam. 

Even an elementary understanding of the meaning of Qur'anic verses 
often depended on grasping the specific circumstances of their revelation. 
The shortest chapter in the Qur'an reads, 'Indeed we have given you the 
Kawthar. So pray to your Lord and sacrifice. Indeed, the one who derides 
you, he is the one cut off.' Even the approximate meaning of such a passage 
does not become clear until read in the light of reports of Tafsir, or reports 
from the early Muslim community about the meaning of Qur'anic words 
and verses as well as the contexts in which they were revealed. Similar to 
Hadiths, Tafsir reports provide a variety and sometimes a cacophony of 
explanations, as the Companions or Successors tasked their memories or 
speculated about the original setting of God's revelations. More rarely, 
Hadiths from the Prophet himself offered explanation. Struggling to 
understand what this 'Kawthar was that God had granted Muhammad, 
medieval ulama identified no fewer than sixteen opinions, with well- 
known, authenticated Hadiths providing the strongest account that it is a 


river in Heaven. They further disagreed on the command to 'sacrifice ' with 
some early ulama interpreting it figuratively as a command addressed to all 
Muslims telling them to hold their hands folded at the lower neck, where 
a ritual offering's throat is cut, during their daily prayers. And who was 
this 'derider'? Tafsir reports seem to concur that it was an enemy member 
of the Prophet's tribe in Mecca who had mocked him for having no male 
children who survived infancy. Hence his line was 'cut off.' 48 The genre of 
Tafsir reports that explained when and why a Qur'anic verse descended 
came to be known as Asbab al-Nuzul, or 'Reasons of Revelation.' 

Often Qur'anic verses appeared to be so general that scholars could 
refer to them without knowing or mentioning their original context at all. 
This was sometimes because the wording of the verses made their general 
import obvious. The verse about punishing thieves was revealed on the 
occasion of the Companion Safwan having his valuable cloak stolen, but the 
phrasing of the verse, with its extension to male or female thieves, clearly 
indicated a more general rule. 45 Similarly, the verses at the beginning of 
the 'Chapter of the Believers' seem to float outside of circumstance: 

Felicitous are the believers. Those who humble themselves in prayer, 
who turn away from vain talk, who render their charitable tithes, and 
who guard their chastity, except from their spouses and those their 
right hands possess (concubines), for indeed they are blameless. But 
those who seek beyond that, they are the transgressors. (23:1-6) 

The generality of these verses left medieval ulama free to reach their own 
conclusions about the sexual constraints referred to in the last two. Shafi'i 
understood these verses as a general prohibition on stimulating the perns 
outside of licit sex (marriage and concubinage). This led him to forbid 
masturbation, and other schools concurred. But in light of the dearth of 
Hadiths on masturbation, Ibn Hanbal and his school did not see this verse 
as relevant and thus considered masturbation to be merely disliked or even 
totally permissible for those who lacked the circumstances to marry. 50 

More often, there were substantial clashes over what a Qur'anic revela- 
tion originally meant. Hence there was disagreement over whether and 
how applicable it was to new situations. For example, some classical ulama 
understood the following verse as a prohibition on Muslims who had com- 
mitted fornication from marrying anyone other than fellow fornicators: 
'The fornicator marries only a fornicatress or a polytheist woman, and a 


fornicatress marries only a fornicator or a polytheist man. And God has 
forbidden that for the believers' (24:3). Khattabi disagreed. Most scholars* 
he explained, read the verse along with Tafsir reports from prominent 
Companions, which explain that this verse had been revealed when a 
particular Muslim man asked the Prophet's permission to frequent some 
well-known pagan Arab prostitutes. The Qur 'an provided the response: a 
sincere Muslim must not do such a thing, for this only befits a fornicator 
or a pagan. What might seem like a general rule condemning Muslims 
guilty of fornication to a caste of sinners - surely an unjust punishment 
for youthful indiscretion - is thus shown actually to be a response to a 
specific man's licentious request. Other ulama expanded it to a repudiation 
of prostitution in general. 

The question of whom a fornicator could marry arose in the first place 
because of an ambiguity, absent in the English translation, over the crucial 
distinction between 'marrying' and 'having sex with' in Arabic. How the 
ulama understood this Qur'anic verse goes back to the different approaches 
to language adopted by the Majority and Hanafi schools of legal theory. 
The Majority school considered the Arabic word 'yankihu' in the verse 
to mean 'marries,' based on its definition in the Islamic legal lexicon. The 
Hanafis, however, used the original Arabic definition of 'has sex with.' 
For them, the above verse would read: 'The fornicator only has sex with a 
fornicatress or a polytheist woman...' The verse becomes a condemnation 
of Muslim men having sex with polytheist women, using the elliptical logic 
of Arabic rhetoric to say that having sex with a polytheist woman makes 
a Muslim into a fornicator. 51 


Grounded in the prosaic moments of everyday life, and many thousands 
of times more numerous than Qur'anic verses, Hadith reports were even 
more entwined in historical context. Muslim scholars labored endlessly 
to determine if specific Hadiths addressed specific situations and persons, 
or if they constituted general commandments. 

One consequential example of the thorny process of Hadith inter- 
pretation concerns mourning for the dead. In its treatment of death and 
burial, the Islamic tradition shares many features with Protestantism: a 


sense of the potential danger inherent in the undue veneration of the 
dead, and unease over the thin line between grief and railing against 
God's decree. Numerous Hadiths caution against excessive mourning, 
warning, 'He is not from among us who beats his cheeks or rends his gar- 
ments, calling out the invocations of the Pre-Islamic Age of Ignorance.' 52 
A set of sound Hadith narrations via the Companion Ibn Umar reports a 
direr admonition from the Prophet. When Ibn Umar's father, the second 
caliph, was mortally wounded by an assassin, he reminded his family that 
the Prophet had admonished: 'The dead are punished for the weeping 
done over them.' 

But Aisha, the Prophet's widow and a pillar of religious authority in 
Medina, disavowed this report. Ibn Umar, she concluded, had erred or 
misunderstood the Prophet's words, for he had actually only said this 
concerning a Jewish man or woman (narrations from Aisha differ) whose 
funeral he had passed in Medina. 'I he Prophet had said to the mourners, or 
about them (again, narrations differ), 'You/they mourn ands/he is being 
punished in the grave.' In other words, the dead unbeliever's tragic fate 
had been sealed, and the grief of mourners availed nothing. The punish- 
ment that God was inflicting was not caused by their mourning. In another 
narration, through the Companion Ibn Abbas, Aisha explains that God 
increases the torment of the dead unbeliever through his family's lamenting. 
In the version reported by another Companion, Aisha explains that the 
dead person was being punished for his own sins and faults. 

Although some early ulama interpreted this Hadith literally, submit- 
ting that God could treat the souls of the dead however He wished, most 
heeded Aisha's qualifications. The importance of recognizing the limited 
application of this warning from the Prophet rested on its clash with a 
central Qur'anic principle, which Aisha invokes in most narrations of this 
Hadith: 'No bearer of burdens will bear the burdens of another' (6:164). 
God would not punish a soul for the actions of others. 53 At most, then, 
Nawawi notes, this Hadith warns Muslims against instructing their family 
to mourn for them publicly, which was a custom among Arabs of the 
Prophet's time, since God might well hold the dead person accountable 
for that egotistical stipulation. This was the interpretation of the majority 
of the Sunni ulama. Furthermore, Nawawi and others remind us that the 
'weeping' forbidden here must be understood as loud, histrionic wailing, 
not normal tears of sadness. 54 Such natural expressions of grief must be 
allowed, notes Nawawi, because authentic Hadiths tell of the Prophet 


shedding tears at the death of his own infant son, Ibrahim, and also describe 
his close friend and successor Abu Bakr breaking into tears upon seeing 
Muhammad's body. Indeed, tears for the dead were 'a mercy,' the Prophet 
had explained. 55 


When God or the Prophet decreed a ruling for a specific reason, what 
happened if that reason ceased to apply? Would the ruling still continue 
to be compelling for Muslims? In matters of ritual and worship, Islam's 
strict conservatism counted obsolescence as a badge of authenticity, a 
mark of guarantee that God's last revelation remained unaltered. When he 
arranged with his Meccan enemies to allow the Muslims to journey from 
Medina to perform the Hajj one year, Muhammad instructed his followers 
to move vigorously through the various stations of the pilgrimage, walking 
briskly in their seven transits between the small hills of Safa and Marwa 
near the Kaaba. He hoped to show the Meccans that years of war, travel 
and hardship had not sapped the Muslims' strength. The ulama preserved 
this 'brisk walking' (rami) as a well-established, recommended act. Years 
after the Prophet's death the caliph Umar remarked on Hajj, 'What is this 
for, this brisk walking... now that God has empowered Islam and negated 
unbelief and the unbelievers?' He answered himself with pride. 'Regardless 
of this, we will not abandon something we used to do in the time of the 
Messenger of God.' 56 

Outside of ritual matters, though, the disappearance of the original 
cause for some scriptural ruling proved more complicated. The Qur'an, for 
example, specifies eight groups who are eligible to receive the charitable 
tithe (Zakat) collected annually from Muslims as part of their religious 
obligation: the indigent, the poor, those in bondage or debt, travelers, those 
laboring in God's path, workers compensated for collecting and dispens- 
ing the Zakat and 'those whose hearts are to be reconciled' (al-muallafa 
qulubuhum) (9:60). This verse was revealed as the Muslims achieved their 
final victory over the Meccans and moved to establish their control over 
Arabia as a whole. The cryptic last group of Zakat recipients refers to 
the Meccan elite and the nobility of nearby tribes that had opposed the 
Prophet to the bitter end, embracing Islam only when its triumph became 


a foregone conclusion. In a decision that proved controversial even among 
his loyal followers, Muhammad decided to direct much of the spoils of 
war and charity collected to this group to help them retain their wealth, 
standing and thus their loyalty to their new community. It was a decision 
justified by the strategic fragility of the Muslims' situation. 

But was this Quranic command valid beyond the strategic circum- 
stances that occasioned it? Medieval ulama differed. The Hanafis and 
some Maliki scholars felt that the need to garner the support of such folk 
had disappeared. They deemed the Zakat category of 'those whose hearts 
are to be reconciled' to be defunct. The Hanbalis and Shafi'is both main- 
tained that the category was still valid even centuries after the imperial 
expansion of Islam, though the Shafi'is rejected giving any Zakat funds to 
non-Muslims from this class. Although it might not seem necessary in a 
civilization reigned over comfortably by Muslims, surprising needs could 
arise. The sixteenth-century jurist and Sufi of Egypt, Abd al-Wahhab 
Sha'rani, recalls a Jewish man who had converted to Islam and received 
no aid or attention from his supposed newfound brethren. Ostracized by 
Cairo's Jewish community, he was on the verge of apostatizing once again 
when Sha'rani arranged for him to receive some financial assistance from 
the Zakat collection. 57 


Although the medieval Sunni tradition developed an astoundingly deep 
and regimented hermeneutic system, it cultivated no unified study of the 
relationships between the individual proof texts of the Qur'an and Hadiths. 
One rarely comes across books, such as the one composed by the Hanbah 
scholar of Baghdad, Ibn Jawzi, identifying all the ambiguous Qur'anic 
verses that are explained by other verses in the holy book. 58 Instead, each 
school of law and theology proposed its own set of relations between the 
sea of Qur'anic verses and Hadiths. These varied visions of how Qur'anic 
verses related to each other, how Hadiths related to each other and how 
the two bodies of scripture interacted was often what created the divergent 
interpretations of the schools. 

Shah Wali Allah's history provided a glimpse of how Qur'anic verses, 
Hadiths, Companion rulings and the use of analogy built on, superseded 


or elucidated each other in a process of interpretation that varied with 
each scholar's mind or temperament. Eventually this interpretive flood 
settled into the more standardized channels of the four Sunni schools of 
law. In this process, one absolutely defining question in the interpretation 
of the Qur'an and Hadiths is how they fit together, both internally and 
with each other. 

The minutiae and subtle variations of Hadith narrations could weigh 
heavily in these calculations. For example, the majority of Sunni scholars 
understood the Hadith that 'A believer is not killed in punishment for 
the death of an unbeliever' as prohibiting the death penalty for a Muslim 
who had murdered a non-Muslim. But Hanafi scholars did not accept this 
Hadith limiting the general Qur'anic edict of 'A life for a life.' They located 
versions of the Hadith that place it within the restricted context of warfare 
and treaties, giving it the circumscribed meaning that a Muslim would not 
be executed if he had killed a non-Muslim from another polity with whom 
the Muslim state had no treaty arrangement. The uniform principle of A 
life for a life' was preserved. 

The Qur'an and Hadiths appeared over the lengthy time span of the 
Prophet's career, which increased the potential facets of interpretation. It 
was self-evident to even the earliest generations of Muslim scholars that 
the beliefs and law taught by Muhammad had evolved over the course of 
his preaching, growing gradually from simple to more ornate. Muslim 
ritual practices and proper conduct oscillated at the margins, their details 
marked by small changes, sometimes with no consequence, sometimes 
placing heavier loads on the believers and sometimes lightening them. 

From an outside perspective, one could observe that it was impossible 
to maintain the unity of the Prophet's teachings without seeing them as 
evolving within a temporal frame. An authenticated Hadith quoted the 
Prophet teaching that 'Whoever says "There is no deity but God" will 
enter Paradise,' which seems to obviate not only the totality of Islam's 
ritual and legal requirements but also the religion's exclusive claim to sal- 
vation as a whole. It is thus no surprise that the early scholar and teacher 
of Malik, Zuhri, explained that the Prophet had said this in the early days 
of his mission before the pillars of prayer, fasting, charity and other laws 
had been revealed 59 

The notion that aspects of the Qur'an's message and the Prophet's 
teachings developed over time was expressed through the concept of 
Naskh, commonly translated as 'abrogation.' Looking back at their mature 


bodies of law, the Sunni legal theorists of the tenth and eleventh centu- 
ries described Naskh either as God replacing a ruling established by the 
lawgiver's address with another ruling' or as 'a temporal indication of a 
ruling's duration.' 

Some cases of abrogation in the Qur'an and Hadiths were unmistak- 
able in the texts themselves: the Qur'an's command to Muhammad and 
the Muslims to turn their faces away from 'the direction of prayer that 
you faced before' (Jerusalem) to a new one, one that 'pleases your heart,' 
the Sacred Mosque in Mecca (2:143-50); Muhammad's command to his 
followers that, T had prohibited you from visiting graves, but visit them, 
for indeed in visiting them there is a reminder [of death].' 60 

Many of the other instances of Naskh that the ulama identified were 
less obvious, relying on Tafsir reports to offer explanations for when a 
verse was revealed or Hadith transmitters recalling when the Prophet 
made a statement. Often, such historical details were barely intimated, 
and it was just the agreement of scholars that determined if abrogation had 
occurred. Numerous reliable Hadiths described the Prophet instructing his 
followers to perform ablutions after eating food cooked by fire. But other 
authenticated Hadiths note that, during his time in Medina, the Prophet 
had eaten a cooked lamb and then prayed without renewing his ablutions. 
Tirmidhi remarks that this is widely agreed upon as the 'latter command 
of the Messenger' and that it abrogates the earlier Hadiths. Indeed, no 
schools of law required ablutions due to eating cooked food." 

Such consensus on abrogation was rare. The intangible and ambiguous 
indications of abrogation meant that there was often litde beyond inclina- 
tion to justify a scholar's decision to classify a Qur'anic verse or Hadith 
as abrogated' or 'abrogating.' Zuhri had explained the Hadith about all 
monotheists entering Heaven as an instance of Naskh. Other early ulama 
explained it as a reference to the well-known Sunni tenet that, in fact, all 
monotheists would eventually attain salvation. Non-Muslim monothe- 
ists and sinful Muslims alike would simply have to endure punishment in 
Hellfire for some period of time before God relieved them. 

One example shows the tremendous consequences of differing perspec- 
tives on when verses were revealed, how abrogation could occur and how 
context determined the meaning of a Qur'anic verse. The Qur'an's com- 
mand that 'retaliatory punishment has been prescribed for you concerning 
those killed, a freeman for a freeman, a slave for a slave, a woman for a 
woman...' (4:178) seemed to clash with the sacred book's principle of 'a 


life for a life.' The Hanafl school of law argued that the two verses had to 
be understood in light of context and Naskh. The first verse was revealed 
to correct the erroneous demand of a powerful Arab tribe that had earlier 
warred with a smaller tribe in Medina. When they sought to reconcile, 
the stronger party was insistent that, for every one of their slaves killed, 
a freeman from the opposing tribe be put to death; and for every woman 
killed, an enemy man be put to death. The Qur 'anic verse then came down, 
overturning this line of thinking and establishing parity between parties in 
a blood dispute: 'a freeman for a freeman, a slave for a slave...' The Hanafis 
held that this verse, in turn, was clarified by the verse testifying 'a life for 
a life.' The other Sunni schools of law, however, deemed the 'freeman 
for a freeman, a slave for a slave' verse to be the definitive command that 
actually replaced the egalitarian order of 'a life for a life.' As a result, unlike 
the Hanafis, the other schools did not permit a freeman to be executed 
as punishment for killing a slave, though other harsh punishments might 
be appropriate. 62 

Abrogation brought into sharp contrast the dissonance between the 
science of legal theory articulated by the medieval ulama and the bodies of 
law that their madhhabs had developed. From the earliest days of scholars 
like Hasan Basri, it was clear that the Qur'an had abrogated the Quran, 
some verses superseding others, and that the Sunna had abrogated the 
Sunna, with some Hadiths overruling others. The Hanafi school of law 
and the rationalized legal theory of Abu Hasan Ash'ari both upheld the 
principle that something that is only epistemologically probable cannot 
overrule something epistemologically certain. Mere authenticated Hadiths 
thus could not abrogate Quranic verses. But the bodies of substantive law 
in all the Sunni schools demonstrated countless instances of this occur- 
ring. All schools of thought were able to overcome this theoretical block 
by turningto the axis of indication rather than that of attestation. Qur 'anic 
verses might be entirely certain in their attestation, but they were not nec- 
essarily so in their indication. Hadiths could thus effectively overrule the 
Qur'an not through abrogation but through specification (takhsis, or bayan 
among Hanafis), explaining the intended meaning rather than replacing it. 

Regarded from the outside, the flexible function of abrogation worked 
as a stunning multiplier of interpretive possibilities in the Islamic scrip- 
tures. The possibility of one Hadith simply replacing another one reduced 
drastically the challenge of maintaining consonance within the body of 
/ scripture overall. Instead of laboring to reconcile two scriptural passages, 


if any evidence suggested that one appeared later than the other, one could 
simply declare that abrogation had occurred. The following verse, for 
example, was generally thought to have been revealed after the Muslim 
conquest of Mecca in 630: 

When you meet the unbelievers in battle, smite their necks until 
you overcome them, then bind them as prisoners, either then set- 
ting them free out of munificence or for a ransom, until the war 
ends... (47:4) 

Other verses, however, command the Prophet that Tt is not for a prophet 
to take prisoners until he has triumphed in the land'. and to 'Fight the 
polytheists altogether as they fight you altogether' (8:67, 9:36). Some 
early ulama read these second two verses as abrogating the first one above, 
entailing an end to taking prisoners and commanding a total, merciless 
war with the enemies of Islam. Others interpreted the first verse above 
as abrogating the second two, providing a new ruling in the last years of 
the Prophet's career that encouraged sparing the enemy soldiers, keeping 
them as prisoners and even freeing them out of beneficence." 

It is in the Islamic rules of war, in fact, that the doctrine of abrogation 
has been most consequential. The Qur'an's commandments on conflict 
and warfare range from passive forbearance to declarations of open war. 
This befits a document that unfolded over more than two decades of 
preaching, persecution, incipient conflict and finally declared war and 
truces. The reasons of revelations tell of a slow escalation. Non-violent 
instructions to 'dispute with [the Meccans] in the best way' and declare 
'Unto you your religion, unto me mine' (16: 125, 109:6) give way to permit- 
ting Muhammad and his followers to fight the Meccans after being driven 
from the city into exile in Medina: 'Permission is given to those who fight 
because they were wronged, verily God is most able to give them succor, 
those who were driven from their homes unjusdy, for but saying, Our 
Lord is God" (22:39). Yet even war with the Meccans and their allies was 
restricted by principles of proportionality: 

Fight those who fight you, but aggress not, verily God loves not the 
aggressors. And slay them wherever you find them, and drive them 
from whence they drove you, for strife is worse than killing... So 
fight them until there is no strife and religion is God's alone. And 


if they desist, then let there be no attacks except upon the oppres- 
sors. (2:190-93) \ 

In a rare instance of agreement, the classical ulama declared all these verses, 
along with their dear principles of proportionality and non-aggression, to 
be abrogated by the 'Sword Ve rses,' the moniker for a few decontextualized 
segments of Quranic verses suggesting unrestricted offensive war, such 
as 'Fighting has been ordained for you' (2:216) and 'Slay the polytheists 
wherever you find them' (9:5). In all, a total of 124 Qur'anic verses were 
considered abrogated by the 'Sword Verses,' 64 Jihad for the expansion of 
the Abode of Islam thus became a collective duty for the Muslim polity 
according to all Sunni schools of law. Leading medieval jurists ruled that 
the caliphs must undertake jihad at least once a year against the most 
proximate foe (based on analogy to the annual collection of the jizya poll 
tax from non-Muslim subjects), though the Prophet's treaties with the 
Meccans meant that extended truces were allowed. 65 

Jihad was understood as the unceasing quest to 'make God's word 
supreme,' as Hadiths described, through the ongoing expansion of the 
rule of God's law on earth. This was not envisioned in any way as a quest 
for forced conversion, which never featured in the Islamic conquests. The 
Qur'anic edict of 'No compulsion in religion' governed the interpretation 
of Hadiths like the authenticated report of the Prophet declaring, T have 
been commanded to fight the people until they testify that there is no god 
but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God, establish prayer and 
pay the charity tithe.' Read in light of the Qur'anic prohibition on coerced 
belief, this mission to extract confessions of belief was not interpreted 
literally. Rather, it was understood as referring either only to Arabia's 
pagans (not followers of monotheistic religions) or as a metaphor for the 
conquered non-Muslims agreeing to submit to Muslim rule. 66 

Some pre-modern Muslim scholars recognized how a recourse to abro- 
gation could excuse laziness in engaging the leitmotifs of Islam's scriptures. 
Only after Sufism had permeated Sunni thinking on law, creating a loftier 
sphere from which the law could be regarded, did perspectives emerge put- 
ting the theory of abrogation in its place. The Sufi jurist Sha'rani considered 
all four Sunni madhhabs to be one great school of law, offering each believer 
a range of positions on any issue and thus the choice between relaxed or 
more stringent rules on any one issue. For him, claims of abrogation were 
''the recourse of those mediocre and narrow-minded jurists whose hearts 


God had not illuminated with His light. They could not perceive all the 
interpretive possibilities in the words of God and the Prophet or appreciate 
that a diversity of opinion was a mercy. By taking the shortcut of stamp- 
ing Qur'anic verses or Hadiths 'abrogated,' such ulama had restricted the 
interpretive plurality that God had intended in the Shariah. For Sha'rani, 
only when a Hadith included the Prophet's own clear abrogation, like his 
report about visiting graves, could it be considered Naskh. Shah Wali Allah 
was similarly skeptical of the ulama's excessive indulgence in abrogation 
to explain the relationship between Qur'anic verses or Hadiths. In all but 
five cases, he found explanations for how to understand the relationship 
between scriptural passages without recourse to abrogation. 

Conscientious thinkers like Sha'rani and Shah Wali Allah were aware of 
how even the learned could be led astray. Sha'rani was fond of the story of 
David's complaint to God. While building the Temple, everything David 
constructed would crumble. God spoke to him, 'My house will not be 
erected by the hands of one who has shed blood.' David pleaded that he 
had only fought wars in God'sname. 'Indeed,' God replied, 'but were those 
who died not also my servants?' 67 


It is not logic that is the life of the law but experience, observed Oliver 
Wendell Holmes. 68 Certainly, one cannot appreciate the complexity of 
the Islamic interpretive tradition until one experiences its application at 
least in part on an issue. Appreciating the thousands of volumes written 
by medieval Muslim scholars is impossible without mustering the patience 
to trace a few of their paths. The controversy over raising one's hands in 
prayer might seem a triviality, but nothing was more important to Muslim 
scholars than the means by which God was worshiped. It almost cost Shah 
Wali Allah's friend his life. Moreover, this debate crystallized the tension 
between loyalty to madhhab (especially the Hanafi one) and the evocative 
call to submit to the original evidence of the Qur'an and Sunna. Hanafis 
claimed that their school's interpretive tradition had taken all the relevant 
Hadiths, Qur'anic verses and Companion opinions into consideration in 
formulating its law. Revivalist Salafis considered this a sacralization of 
institutions outside the Qur'an and Sunna. 


This controversy in the time of Shah Wali Allah has its roots in the 
primordial disagreement between the Kufan tradition of Abu Hanifja and 
the early Sunni school, which later blossomed into the Shafi'i and Hanbali 
madhhabs and eventually brought the Hanafis under its sway by forcing 
them to justify their law with Hadiths too. The Shafi'i and Hanbali schools, 
which emerged from the original Sunni clique and identified most closely 
with its Hadith- centered ethos, both saw raising one's hands at multiple 
points in the prayer as an indication of a true commitment to following 
the Prophet's teachings. The Hanafis viewed these schools as obsessive 
literalists who did not recognize how Abu Hanifa had accurately assessed 
the true shape of the Sunna through his legal methods. 

In reality, however, the debate over raising one's hands in prayer was 
just as much about two teams stubbornly defending their colors as it was 
about the proper approach to the Prophet's legacy. It caused such strident 
dissension because each side in the dispute seemed to enjoy strong sup- 
port from the Hadith corpus. At Hajj one year, Abu Hanifa met the leading 
scholar of Beirut, Awza'i, and the two debated whether one should raise 
one hands toward one's shoulders only when beginning the five daily 
prayers, or also before bending over to bow and then also when standing 
erect again. Awza'i presented his evidence: he had heard Zuhri narrate 
from S alim, from his father Ibn Umar that "The Prophet, may God's peace 
and blessings be upon him, would raise his hands toward his shoulders 
when the prayer opened, upon bowing and upon rising up from it.' But 
Abu Hanifa countered with his own formidable Hadith evidence: his 
teacher Hammad had learned from the Kufan jurist Nakha'i that he had 
heard from Alqama, who had heard from Ibn Mas'ud that "The Prophet 
only lifted his hands at the opening of the prayer.' 69 

Both of these Hadiths appear to rest on solid, authenticated chains of 
transmission and seem clear in their meaning. And they also completely 
contradict one another. The issue of raising one's hands in prayer thus 
provides an ideal example of the very frequent clash between contrasting 
Hadiths. A defining claim of Sunni Islam was that no two authentic Hadiths 
could actually contradict each other (just as they could not contradict the 
Qur'an). Apparent contradiction thus meant that the ulama either had to 
prove that some of the Hadiths were unreliable, or they had to find how 
the Hadiths fit properly together. If this could be achieved through the 
interpretive means we have seen so far, such as specification, this was 
ideal, since Sunni ulama generally favored incorporating as much of the 


great mass of scriptural evidence into the interpretive process as possible 
Khattabi explains that, 'If they can both be acted upon, it is not permitted 
to interpret two Hadiths as contradictory.' 70 Next, if no interpretive rec- 
onciliation can be reached for two reliable Hadiths, one should look for 
signs of abrogation. If none is evident, then one should examine the two 
Isnads to identify which one is more reliable in terms of its transmitters 
and the corroboration it enjoys. If no substantial difference can be found, 
then one takes the Hadith that seems closest to the overall message of the 
Qur'an and Sunna. 71 

The debate on raising hands in prayer offers a glimpse of how the 
stunning number of Hadiths, each ramifying into narrations differing in 
minute details, Companion opinions and scholarly analyses, could grow 
up around an issue like an intertwined trellis of argument. The works of 
two scholars, the Shafi'i Hadith prodigy Abu Bakr Bayhaqi and his earlier 
counterpart, the Hanafi Abu Ja'far Tahawi, provide a model intellectual 
duel. Seeing how they navigated and utilized this mass of information 
demonstrates the interpretive richness inherent in the Sunni tradition. 

Bayhaqi stands out as the perfect champion of the Shafi'i school. He 
had compiled his massive Sunan (published today in ten volumes) to 
collect, organize and analyze all the scriptural evidence backing up the 
Shafi'i school's body of substantive law. This was needed to fend off the 
increasingly skilled Hanafi polemicists such as Tahawi, who had mastered 
the science of Hadith collection and criticism, originally exclusive to the 
armory of the Sunni network that developed it. The tremendous service 
that Bayhaqi rendered the Shafi'i school in doing so led one leading scholar 
to observe that 'Every follower of the Shafi'i school owes Shafi'i himself 
a favor. Except Bayhaqi. Shafi'i owes him a favor.' 

On the issue of raising one's hands in prayer (and, in fact, the shape of 
prayer in general), the Qur'an is silent. But Bayhaqi lists dozens of ver- 
sions of almost a dozen different Hadiths, narrated from the Prophet by 
Companions like Ibn Umar, the Prophet's servant Anas bin Malik as well as 
others via the caliphs Abu Bakr and AIL He follows these with the rulings 
of Companions and Successors such as Hasan Basri. Ibn Umar's narration 
of a Hadith from the Prophet was deemed decisive by a number of leading 
ulama, such as Malik, Awza'i and the Meccan Sufyan bin 'Uyayna. Their 
transmission of the Hadith via the Isnad of Muhammad Ibn Umar 
Salim ^ Zuhri sums up the contents of all these reports succinctly: "The 
Messenger of God, when the prayer opened, used to raise his hands toward 


his shoulders, and also when he moved to bow at the waist and when he 
rose up from that bow. And he would not raise his hands between the t^o 
prostrations [the often televised act of Muslims kneeling and touching 
their forehead to the earth twice].' 72 

But what of the Hadith evidence against raising one's hands multiple 
times in prayer? Bayhaqi provides a lengthy chapter devoted to neutral- 
izing it. Hanafi evidence consisted principally of two Hadiths, each with 
its own web of narrations emanating from the Companion and Successors 
who transmitted it. The Companion Bara' bin Azib is quoted observing, 
'I saw the Messenger of God, when he began the prayer, raise his hands, 
and he did not repeat this.' To dispute this Hadith, Bayhaqi deploys the 
Sunni science of Hadith criticism. The Successor, Yazid bin Abi Ziyad, who 
supposedly transmitted this report from the Companion in question, was 
declared unreliable by Ibn Hanbal and his close associate and fellow master 
Hadith critic of Baghdad, Ibn Ma'in. Bayhaqi finds earlier criticism from 
the famous Meccan scholar, Sufyan bin 'Uyayna, who actually heard this 
Hadith from Yazid. He observed that Yazid was unreliable, particularly on 
this Hadith, because he allowed his students to influence his transmissions. 
They would prompt him until he assented that the Hadith specified that 
the Prophet only raised his hands once. Another criticism by Sufyan bin 
'Uyayna notes that Yazid only transmitted this Hadith after he had been 
afflicted with senility. 73 

The second and better-known Hadith was the one Abu Hanifa had 
cited to Awza'i at Haj j. The base and trunk of the Isnad tree came from the 
Companion Ibn Mas'ud, who described the Prophet's manner of prayer 
and then proceeded via his student Alqama bin Qays (hence, Muhammad 
-> Ibn Mas'ud -> Alqama bin Qays). From him the transmissions radiated 
outward among the ulama of Kufa, including to Nakha'i, who then trans- 
mitted it to Hammad bin Abi Sulayman, Abu Hanifa's teacher. 

Bayhaqi musters the collective expertise of the Sunni Hadith critics 
against this evidence. The senior Hadith critic of Baghdad, who took his 
cognomen from the city's cotton district, Daraqutni, analyzed the range of 
narrations via Abu Hanifa's Isnad and concluded that some error or forget- 
fulness had affected Hammad's narration of the Hadith from Nakha'i. Every 
other scholar narrating it from Nakha'i cited the originating authority as 
Ibn Mas'ud, not the Prophet, and transmitted the report with an incom- 
plete Isnad (namely, Nakha'i quoting Ibn Mas'ud, whom he never met, 
without naming his intermediary). This version of the Hadith, Daraqutni 


explains, therefore suffers from both an unreliable, broken Isnad and also 
only represents a Companion's opinion, not prophetic precedent. 74 

In truth, there were too many narrations of Ibn Mas'ud's Hadith from the 
Prophet to deal with in such a particularized, technical manner; Daraqutni's 
critique only neutralized one cluster of narrations (those from Muhammad 
-> Ibn Mas'ud Alqama ■» Nakha'i), and many other Successor scholars 
had narrated the same Hadith from Alqama. Bayhaqi thus introduces 
early scholarly opinions that dismiss altogether the Kufan version of the 
limited, one-offhand raising. Ibn Mubarak, a contemporary of Malikfrom 
Khurasan in northeastern Iran, is quoted saying that he simply could not 
accept the Hadith from Ibn Mas'ud as authentic, since he had heard so 
many narrations of the Hadith describing the Prophet's numerous hand 
raises via Muhammad -» Ibn Umar Salim Zuhri. He had come across 
so much evidence of this Hadith, in fact, that he remarked, 'It's as if I'm 
seeing the Messenger of God himself raising his hands in prayer before 
me, due to the sheer number of Hadiths and the quality of their Isnads! 

Bayhaqi concludes that, assuming the Isnads back to Ibn Mas'ud are 
reliable, this Hadith can only be explained by Ibn Mas'ud having forgotten 
or mistaken what he saw the Prophet do. Raising one's hands at the open- 
ing of prayer, before bowing and after standing straight again is so well 
established via Hadiths of the Prophet, reports about how the first four 
'Rightly Guided' caliphs prayed and from the opinions of other leading 
~ Companions, that Ibn Mas'ud's report simply cannot be true. Bayhaqi him- 
self introduces the possible explanation that, if Hadiths like Ibn Mas'ud's 
were historically reliable, they must be cases of abrogation. They must 
represent some earlier form of the prayer before the Prophet gave it its 
final shape. He notes that in the early days of the Prophet's mission other 
aspects of the prayer had differed as well, like placing one's hands between 
one's thighs while bowing instead of leaning on one's knees. 75 

Bayhaqi's opponent in this debate was the Egyptian Abu Ja'far Tahawi, 
who had begun his studies at the feet of his uncle, a leading student of no 
less than Shafi'i himself. The nephew, however, chose not to follow in his 
family's footsteps, and he embraced the rival Hanafi school of law instead. 
As the school favored by the imperial authority in Baghdad, the Hanafis 
controlled the Shariah courts in the Abb asid province of Egypt. Working 
as a court clerk, Tahawi was sought out by Hanafi colleagues and his 
opponents alike for his mastery of Hadiths. Tahawi 's experience with the 
early Sunni methodology of Hadith criticism and the vast accumulation 


of Hadiths he heard from all the ulama who visited Egypt made him a 
formidable Hadith critic, able to engage his Shafi'i and Hanbali opponents 
in their own science. 

The main challenge facing Tahawi was how to explain why the Hanafis 
had not acted on the many Hadiths, mostly through the Companion Ibn 
Umar, that clearly described the Prophet raising his hands at multiple 
points in the prayer. Here, Tahawi's tactic was to catch the early Sunnis 
(and their Shafi'i and Hanbali descendants) up in their own game, arguing 
that they were just as guilty of selectively acting on Hadiths as they accused 
the Hanafis of being. The majority version of Ibn Umar's Hadith includes 
the final phrase 'and he [the Prophet] did not raise his hands between the 
two prostrations,' which was an important point for Shafi'is and Hanbalis, 
who indeed did not raise hands at this point in the prayer and would have 
excoriated anyone who did. But Tahawi contends that it is not clear who 
actually said this last clause. Evidence suggested that it might merely be the 
opinion of some later transmitter passing on the Hadith. In fact, Tahawi 
introduces another version of Ibn Umar's Hadith that describes the Prophet 
raising hands while seated between the two prostrations. The Shafi'is and 
Hanbalis accused the Hanafis of ignoring Hadiths that did not accord with 
their madhhab, but, Tahawi points out, the accusers were themselves 
guilty of this. Why did the Shafi'is and Hanbalis not follow this command 
to raise their hands between the prostrations as well, Tahawi asks, turning 
the accusation of selectivity in following Hadiths back on them. 76 

The Hanafi school, argues Tahawi, did not lumber clumsily through all 
these contradictory details in the varied narrations of Hadiths. 'We know 
that hands are raised only at the opening of prayer,' he asserts. Tahawi 
acknowledges that there are many Hadiths through other Companions 
describing the Prophet raising his hands at multiple points in the prayer. 
But these are moot, Tahawi claims, since he cites narrations describing 
senior Companions like Ali and Umar only raising their hands at the 
opening of prayer. This, he argues, demonstrates the understanding of 
the Prophet's Sunna after his death, which necessarily reflected its final, 
abrogating form. Raising one's hands at the opening of the prayer alone 
represents the Prophet's true Sunna. 77 

Examined from a distance, Tahawi's and Bayhaqi's arguments are 
often mirror images of one another, relying on the same techniques and 
arguments. Both had argued that all evidence for the opposing position 
was abrogated. Like Bayhaqi, Tahawi also attempts to draw distinctions 


between brief and thus inaccurate observations of Muhammad's practice on 
the one hand and extended experience with him on the other. Responding 
to a Hadith transmitted from one of the more junior Companions that 
reports the Prophet raising his hands at numerous points in the prayer, 
Tahawi quotes Nakha'i that, if that minor Companion had seen the Prophet 
do his prayers only once, Ibn Mas'ud had seen him fifty times. 78 

Hadith criticism was a science designed by the early Sunnis, and 
Hanafis like Tahawi had to convince their opponents by playing by their 
rules in order to be accepted. But Tahawi also fights back against what he 
feels are the inaccurate rules in Hadith criticism, such as requiring con- 
tiguous, complete Isnads even during the generation of the Companions 
and Successors, when such obsessively exact transmission practices were 
rare. On the count of Nakha'i narrating Hadiths from Ibn Mas'ud with- 
out specifying his intermediary source, Tahawi .argues that this was the 
common Kufan method (in fact, he and other Hanafis argued that it was 
universally accepted before the early Sunnis challenged it). Nakha'i would 
tell his students from among the nascent Sunnis, who often demanded 
complete Isnads, that if he said Tbn Mas'ud said...' that meant that Nakha'i 
had heard this report from Ibn Mas'ud via multiple intermediaries whose 
large number made specifying them unnecessary and tedious. 79 

Both Bayhaqi and Tahawi used the evidence of scripture and the 
accepted tools for manipulating and analyzing it masterfully to pursue 
their own positions. Judging from a distance, it is very difficult to distin- 
guish the victor. The volumes written on the issue of raising one's hands 
in prayer over the centuries could occupy whole library shelves. An entire 
wing would have to be devoted to the hundreds of other such debates 
over issues, from performing ablutions to the technicalities of divorce 
and the propriety of visiting saints' graves. Shafi'i was right, it seems, m 
declaring that consensus exists only on the basics of Islamic dogma and 
law, not on its details. 


Notarizing away in the Shariah court of Fustat ('Cairo 5 proper would not 
be built for another forty years), Tahawi could not have imagined the 
epistemologicai crisis into which the Hadiths of the Fly and the Devil 
Farting would pitch his countrymen a millennium later. He had debated 


over too many Hadiths, dodged too many scholarly ripostes and seen too 
many litigants swear too many oaths before judges to maintain any illul 
sion about achieving certainty in the law. But he and his contemporaries 
were also too confident in the Shariah and its scriptural bases for reserva- 
tions about the cilia and murky minutiae of that system to cast doubt on 
its overall form. Whether in law or theology, Muslim scholars accepted 
that the religion they taught the believers was at best an imposing thicket 
of probabilities built around a core of certainties. The elements 'known 
necessarily as part of the religion' were the bedrock of Islamic dogma and 
practice, those items that rested on epistemologically unshakable founda- 
tions and enjoyed true consensus support. Like all matters, the ulama often 
disagreed on how far this list stretched, but the agreed-upon core did not 
vary: God's unity and transcendence, His main attributes, resurrection 
and the Day of Judgment, the finality of Muhammad's prophethood, the 
requirement of ablution for prayer, the five daily prayers, Zakat, the fast of 
Ramadan, the pilgrimage to Mecca, the basic structure of Islamic marriage 
and divorce, the impermissibility of intoxication and fornication, and so 
on. To reject those articles 'known necessarily as part of the religion' was 
to cease being a Muslim. 80 

Tahawi certainly hoped to convince all Muslims to pray as the Hanafi 
school prescribed, but as long as Muslims performed the five daily prayers 
according to any acknowledged madhhab their faith was valid. The ulama 
harangued their flocks from Friday mosque pulpits with Hadiths that 
brought the Prophet's warnings of Hellfire and good tidings of Paradise to 
the very ears of his followers. But if a member of the congregation refused 
to believe even Hadith this would amount to no more than a sin or 
deviance. Only denying the authenticity of a Qur 'anic verse or a massively 
transmitted (mutawatir) Hadith would make one an unbeliever. 81 Mosque 
preachers or popular storytellers at Sufi shrines could enrapture audi- 
ences with the many esteemed Hadiths from the Sahih books of Bukhari 
and Muslim describing Muhammad's ascent through the seven heavens 
on his miraculous night journey, when God 'took His servant by night 
from the Sacred Mosque of Mecca to the Farthest Mosque' in Jerusalem 
(Qur'an 17:1). One version describes him leading all the great prophets 
in prayer in the heavens; another had him touring the Gardens of Paradise 
destined for the felicitous. Some imply that he actually saw God, others 
that he merely beheld the 'Furthest Lote Tree' in Heaven. If a Muslim 
— chose not to believe some of these narrations, or denied the contrasting, 



sometimes contradictory details of Muhammad's ascent, a scholar like 
Bayhaqi could do no more than reprimand him as sinful or misled. Only 
the general outline of the Prophet's miraculous night journey, referred to 
in the inerrant Qur'an, was a required tenet of faith. 82 

In stark contrast to Tahawi's time, Egypt of the early twentieth 
century was at a historical nadir of confidence in Islam's scriptures. It 
was an era of intense colonial influence and intellectual liberalization. 
The writings that Sidqi and Abu Rayya produced and the milieu that 
received them would have been unthinkable only decades earlier. Never 
has Egypt or the wider Muslim intellectual world seen a more willing 
acceptance of Western approaches to the study of Islam and the defini- 
tion of its doctrine. 

The one man to whom the Islamic modernist cause owed the most was 
the visionary scholar who inspired both Sidqi and Abu Rayya. Muhammad 
'Abduh (d. 1905) was a classically trained Maliki jurist, but one who had 
spent time in Europe and possessed a peerless and creative reformist bent. 
Under the watchful eye of the British 'Veiled Protectorate' of Egypt, in 
1899 the Egyptian king appointed 'Abduh as Grand Mufti, in charge of 
issuing Shariah rulings for the government. In part this was to mollify the 
British High Commissioner, who supported Abduh's modernizing zeal. As 
Grand Mufti, 'Abduh undertook dramatic efforts to reinterpret Islamic law 
according to modern precepts. While pre-modern ulama had derived legal 
rulings from an extensive body of scripture, including unreliable Hadiths 
as well as Companion opinions, Abduh felt that only clear Qur 'anic verses 
and the most solidly reliable Hadiths were compelling. In their absence, he 
ruled according to Maslaha, or public interest, which in his mind tended 
to dovetail with state modernization agendas. 

'Abduh's approach in many ways revived the rationalism and Hadith 
skepticism of the medieval Mutazila, and he left as his legacy for genera- 
tions of like-minded reformists a reordered interpretive system in which a 
direct engagement with the Qur'an overshadowed the Hadiths, consensus 
or the four vast pools of substantive law. During his tenure as Grand Mufti, 
'Abduh permitted individual Muslims and the Egyptian state to receive 
interest from bank deposits (since he argued that the Riba prohibited by 
the Qur'an was only excessive usury, not simple interest itself) and issued 
controversial fatwas allowing eating non-Halal meat and the collection 
and display of artwork and statues depicting human beings (the fear that 
Muslims would lapse into idolatry no longer applied, he argued). 


Western intellectual influence in early twentieth-century Egypt was so 
profound that it extended into the study of Islam itself and enjoyed strbng 
currency. A book by Europe's leading scholar of Islam, which dismissed 
the Sunni Hadith corpus as wholly historically unreliable, was used in the 
curriculum of Cairo's vaunted Al-Azhar seminary. The Arabic Language 
Academy, formed by the Egyptian king in 1933 and which would eventu- 
ally symbolize not only the sanctity of Islam's sacred language but also the 
very stuff of Arab nationalism, originally reserved no less than one quarter 
of its board of scholars for European orientalists. 83 

The Sunni approach to interpreting scripture and its mind-numb ingly 
detailed application on issues like raising hands in prayer carried little 
weight in this atmosphere. For Sidqi and Abu Rayya, the richness, volu- 
minous complexity and frequently incapacitating depth of the medieval 
Sunni interpretive tradition were merely more nails in its coffin. The 
more one explored this heritage, they concluded, the more it revealed 
the benighted assumptions of the medieval world. They looked at it as 
Renaissance humanists such as Erasmus had looked at the Christian 
scholasticism of Aquinas and Duns Scotus: it was an obsolete system stuck 
in a self-involved and overly intricate discourse of 'subtle trifles' that did 
not address the real problems at hand or reflect God's simple, original 
message to humankind. 84 

Sidqi and Abu Rayya had run up against the historical fact that, in truth, 
the Shariah had always been just as much a civilizational project as it was 
an impulse of religious conscience. The shop owners and farmers who 
had notarized land sales in Tahawi's court had acknowledged the Shariah 
as much because it was the law of the land as because it was God's law. 
Wherever it came from, it provided the legal lubricant and protection for 
society's moving parts. It had been constructed to bring a unified order to 
a polyglot expanse, to furnish the infrastructure of a civilization that had 
joined regions never bundled together before. But now the world had a 
new order. It was mapped, nationalized and administered by the white- 
skinned and pith-helmeted colonizers, as foreign and as unaccommodating 
as they were undeniably alluring. 

At many crucial junctures in their Shariah construction project, medi- 
eval Muslim ulama had relied on the argument that principles such as the 
ultimate reliability of Hadiths or the infallibility of the Prophet had to be 
accepted or else the whole of the Shariah would be lost. It was an argu- 
ment from consequence, a parade of only one horrible, that no one in their 


world could accept, namely the loss of the civilizational project itself. In 
Egypt of the early twentieth century, however, for many people that no 
longer seemed so bad. Conservative ulama who responded to Abduh, Sidqi 
or Abu Rayya. by parroting their medieval forefathers were arguing for a 
vision of religion that the world seemed to have outgrown. As he sought 
to understand his faith through reason, the twelfth-century Christian 
scholastic Anselm of Bee had professed that one had to believe in order 
to understand. 85 In Cairo of Sidqi's day, and in many other metropolises 
of the Muslim - now colonized and/or modernizing - world, many did 
not believe enough anymore. 


Clinging to the Canon in a Ruptured World 


Cosmopolitan Istanbul attracts visitors with the iconic hilltop mosques 
and romantic bazaars of a past it has tried hard to escape. Republican 
Turkey's fraught relationship with its Ottoman, Islamic ancestry has long 
been on display in the neighborhood clustered around the weathered 
domes of the Fatih Mosque. Off the main tourist route, located as it is in 
an area that guidebooks label 'conservative,' the Fatih Mosque was built 
by Mehmet the Conqueror when he took the city in 1453. It quickly 
became the beating heart of the Ottoman Empire's religious establish- 
ment. Generations of ulama flocked to its famous 'Eight Madrasas' from 
as far as Cairo and Samarqand to teach and study, departing only to staff 
madrasas in provincial metropolises like Belgrade or Shariah courts in 
Baghdad or Cairo. 

Today, the environs of the Fatih Mosque are cheery and peaceful. 
When I first visited, the sun had not yet vanquished the predawn chill of 
the Istanbul spring, and the old men who remained in the mosque after 
the dawn prayer sat huddled in the mosque's sole heated room. I had come 
to attend the lessons of one of them, a man in his eighties who was the 
last surviving student of an Ottoman scholar who had refused to accept 
the modern world. 

When Mehemmet Zahit Kevseri taught there in the years before the 
First World War, the Fatih madrasas still basked in imperial pride, despite 
the Ottomans' extensive modernization of the state's educational system. 


Before he fled the Republican militias of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Kevseri 
had been the most senior instructor in the Ottoman clerical elite. He may 
well have helped formulate the last declaration of jihad by the caliph of 
an Islamic empire in November of 1914. Ironically, it was the graduates 
of that empire's Europeanized military academies (too successful for the 
sultan's own good, it turned out) who ultimately freed Istanbul from for- 
eign occupation in 1922. They considered the conservative ulama to be 
a clerical barbarism and a prime impediment to progress. The antipathy 
was mutual. The secular, westernized republic that Ataturk and his cadre 
inaugurated wiped away all traces of the Islamic caliphate that Kevseri 
knew and embodied everything he despised. 

In the winter of 1922 Kevseri arrived in Cairo, a penniless exile, and 
eventually found work cataloging the Turkish and Persian manuscripts in 
Cairo's royal library. He lived dispossessed and frugally until his death in 
1952, not two weeks after a military coup by young, nationalist, secularizing 
officers had toppled Egypt's monarch, the last potentate of the Ottoman 
world. For thirty years Kevseri had lived in Cairo, writing at home and 
teaching students in an impenetrably high literary Arabic lightened by the 
labial delicacy of his Turkish accent. 

And he had raged. He had raged against Ataturk's abolition of the 
caliphate, God's shadow on earth and Muhammad's rightful successor. 
He had raged against Egypt's stupid, bewitched reformists, whose aim of 
matching the Western powers was matched only by their need to please 
them. He had raged most of all against the modernist ulama, who 'tore up 
our religion to adorn our earthly world,' not realizing that 'our world does 
not endure, and now neither does what we have torn up.' 

For Kevseri, there was no modern world. There was only a glorious 
past that endured into the present until it was ripped away. There was 
only God's law, the truth of Islam and the countless tomes penned by the 
great ulama of its halcyon days. In his modest apartment in Cairo, Kevseri 
answered fatwa requests from around the world and taught his students. 
For them he was a living relic of that past. Few of its minds had ever been 
his equal. He was an ocean of knowledge, his students recalled. It seemed 
as though the whole heritage of the Islamic past floated at his command as 
he scribbled countless journal articles, raging against all that was distorted 
around him, quoting from memory vanished pages from the imperial 
libraries of Istanbul. 1 




Scripture is fragile only if the community of its readers lacks the will to 
affirm its truth. When a canonical community fragments, those segments 
that continue to cling tightly to their scripture and the belief system sur- 
rounding it can fight fiercely against those who seek to break away. At 
these moments of epistemological rupture, approaches to scripture that 
had never previously been controversial in and of themselves can overstep 
the new lines demarcating treason to the rump canonical community. For 
centuries Sunni scholars had critiqued freely, sometimes viciously, Hadiths 
from the esteemed Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim collections. It was 
only when the foundations of the classical Sunni tradition were challenged 
in the modern period by the Salafi movements and even more so by the 
appearance of Islamic modernists, that a skeptic like Sidqi was called an 
'unbeliever' for rejecting the Hadith of the Fly. Similarly, for well over a 
millennium the Catholic Church had sensed no great need to declare the 
Latin Vulgate Bible unified and immune from textual criticism. Only after 
some Protestants had made the scripture the center of their occasionally 
critical study was questioning the Bible's unity or content declared anath- 
ema at the Church's Council of Trent in 1546. 

In such periods of crisis, even methods of reading scripture or interpre- 
tive devices with impressive pedigrees can become dangerous if utilized 
as vehicles for new epistemological worldviews. Spinoza argued that 
the books of the Old Testament had not been written by their supposed 
authors. To justify his conclusion, he invoked the writings of the twelfth- 
century rabbinic exegete Ibn Ezra as precedent. Despite such medieval 
testimonium, Spinoza was excommunicated from Amsterdam's Jewish 
community. Some fifty years later, the Cambridge divine Thomas Woolston 
wrote what he insisted vehemently and to his last day was a defense of the 
Bible in his modern age. He argued, like his paragon Origen, that the Old 
Testament must be interpreted allegorically in order to be acceptable. 
Just as Origen had read biblical verses considered absurd in his own day 
figuratively (how could the Devil actually have taken Jesus up a mountain 
so high that he could see all the kingdoms of the world, Origen asked), 
Woolston argued that the miracles in the New Testament, which were 
obviously scientifically impossible, must be interpreted allegorically as 
well. They were, he wrote, no more than the curing of 'the Blindness and 
the Lameness of our Understandings.' Copies of Woolston's book sold so 


well that Voltaire complained about not being able to find one. Yet the 
Cambridge scholar was dismissed from his teaching post and fined so 
heavily that he died in a debtor's prison. 2 

The fate of Spinoza and Woolston is hardly surprising. Yes, Ibn Ezra 
(and Martin Luther, for that matter) had opined comfortably and without 
incident that Moses did not write the last part of Deuteronomy. It was 
probably penned by his successor, Joshua. Nor was skepticism toward 
biblical miracles new. A seventh-century Christian commentary on the 
Bible, De Mirabilis Sacrae Scripturae, offered natural explanations for 
them. 3 But Spinoza was arguing that nothing in the Old Testament was 
written by Moses. Woolston was teaching that none of the miraculous 
works of the historical Jesus ever occurred, that they were unimportant 
and that even considering their occurrence literally was to misunderstand 
Christianity altogether. All that mattered was the ethical and religious 
teachings encoded metaphorically in Jesus' life. 

The cases of Spinoza and Woolston offer a clear distinction between 
the cognitive content of an idea or a component of a scholarly tradition 
and the ideological purposes to which it is put to use. 4 The main route 
for introducing change to a conservative interpretive tradition is to 
employ veteran tools from its repository to advance unprecedented 
ideas. But one must do so without seeming to break the coherence of 
that system or pandering too obviously to external agendas. Overloaded 
or pushed too far, even the most indigenous interpretive scheme will 
run aground. 

With Spinoza and Woolston, what opponents and timid supporters 
alike knew mattered was the worldview preached in their writings, not 
the formal legitimacy of their interpretive methods or even the particular 
conclusions they reached. The De Mirabilis offered a natural explanation 
for miracles that denied any direct divine interference with nature's laws. 
But the book only did so to affirm the natural law of the Christian God in 
an ordered Christian universe. Woolston, by contrast, mercilessly mocked 
the comic image that a literal reading of the New Testament miracles 
created. He scoffed at the priesthood who taught it and the laity who 
believed it. Ibn Ezra and Luther believed that, whoever wrote the last part 
of Deuteronomy, it was indubitably the inspired and compelling word of 
God; Spinoza dismissed this as naively untenable. 5 The religious leadership 
of Amsterdam's Jewish community and the Anglican state establishment 
saw Spinoza and Woolston for exactly what they were: proponents of a 


new epistemological worldview that threatened religious orthodoxy and 
the social sensibilities, and hierarchies, that it represented. I 


Scriptural communities are not homogeneous. The turning over of new 
epistemological eras is rarely quick or decisive. Even the most undeniable 
historical transformations, such as secularization in the West, only 
slowly engulf the phenomena they replace. The fourteenth-century 
proto-Protestant Lollards of England announced a suspicion of Church 
sacraments and considered marriage to be out of the hands of priests. But 
five hundred years of gradual social and legal evolution passed before civil 
marriage received full legal recognition in Britain in 1833. 6 

Worldviews split at ruptures in commonly acknowledged truths, diverg- 
ing and co existing in tension. Cosmopolitanism can exist side by side with 
an atavistic longing for an insulated, 'authentic' tradition. The Hellenistic 
Mediterranean world produced Jewish communities of both types, Platonic 
philosophers like Philo of Alexandria and the hermetic community of 
the Dead Sea Scrolls. 7 Microcontexts coexist in stark contrast. The pious 
but disquieting peripatetic teacher Giulio Vanini was executed for heresy 
and atheism in the zealous French city of Toulouse in 1619. Meanwhile, 
a professor in the University of Paris flourished while mocking the Bible 
as absurd and dismissing Heaven and Hell as fables drummed up to scare 
simpletons. 8 

The attitudes of Egypt's political and cultural elite in the liberal heyday 
of the early twentieth century may have created unprecedented space for 
the establishment of a modern banking system, women's rights movements 
or for young effendis to dismiss the Sunna as stupid. But the turn of the 
epistemological era would not be as dramatic as Islamic modernists like 
'Abduh or Sidqi would have hoped. Leading defenders of Al-Azhar tradi- 
tionalism in the 1930s rebutted criticisms of the Hadiths ofthe Fly and the 
Sun Prostrating. They offered the latest scientific studies attesting that flies 
carried powerful antibodies and invoked the rich figurative possibilities of 
classical Arabic. They accused modernists like Sidqi of being so enamored 
of Western scientism that they were summarily and ignorantly dismissing 
the Islamic interpretive heritage. The famous Muslim revivalist scholar 


Rashid Rida ( Abduh's chief acolyte, though much less enamored of Europe) 
riled provocatively against the appointment of European orientalists to the 
Arabic Language Academy and their 'twisted' presentation of Islam. 9 The 
use of orientalist books in the Al-Azhar curriculum triggered influential 
defenses ofthe Hadiths and Sunna. Abduh was attacked mercilessly in the 
popular press as a westernized hypocrite who 'went to Europe but never 
to Hajj' and died a broken man. 10 

In modern Egypt, what had unfolded as internal dynamics between the 
secular/scientific and the scriptural/ clerical in Spinoza's Amsterdam and 
Woolston's England was being rehashed as part ofthe agonistic dynamic 
between the colonizer and colonized, 'co-opted' elites and 'authentic' 
tradition. In the 1930s the Muslim Brotherhood arose to challenge the 
notion that 'Islam and organization can never coincide' and to drive 
imperialism first from the hearts of Egyptians and then from Egypt itself. 
Arabic nationalism rolled back calls like that of Egyptian reformists in the 
late 1930s to follow Turkey's example and write Arabic in a Latin script. 
Most importantly, the powerful, popular Islamic revival of the 1970s and 
1980s reintroduced at least a formal respect for Islam and its scriptures 
in public life. 

In part as a civilizational riposte to Western encroachment and in part 
due to state support as a bulwark against communism, Islamic-inflected 
discourse came to dominate the Egyptian public square by the 1990s. Since 
then, modernist rethinking of scripture like Sidqi's advocacy of 'Islam is 
the Qur'an Alone' or Abu Rayya's wholesale indictment of the classical 
methods of Hadith criticism have come only from a few diehard Islamic 
modernists and have found purchase only among elite and liberal circles 
in Egyptian society. 

Yet the tremendous influence of westernization, the modern and the 
secular has not waned. As a result, since the mid-twentieth century dis- 
course on Islam in Egypt and other centers ofthe Arab world has reflected 
the intense contest over the proper sources of norms and beliefs. A publicly 
recognized commitment to the Shariah and Islam's scriptures competes 
with the hegemonic expectations and gravitational pull ofthe modern West. 
Ring-fenced and embattled, the symbols of Islamic identity - the Qur'an, 
the Shariah and the person ofthe Prophet - occupy a station made all the 
more sacrosanct by its precariousness. Media, the state, secular Arab intel- 
lectuals and international actors alternately encourage or oblige segments 
of the ulama to reconcile the Qur'an and Hadiths with the firmest tenets of 


neoliberal economics and democracy. State- appointed muftis and state- 
employed clergy usually comply. Meanwhile, more conservative ulama, 
particularly those in opposition to the state, champion interpretations 
of the scripture and the Shariah that preserve the pre-modern heritage. 
Sometimes they reimagine an atavistic tradition more conservative than 
any that actually existed. 

In an Egypt straddling an epistemological fault, the balance that has 
emergedbetween the canonicity of scripture and liberalized interpretation 
has proven precarious. The late Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, once a professor 
of Arabic literature at the University of Cairo, discovered this when he 
produced a postmodern restatement of Sidqi's modernist call to base Islam 
on the Qur'an and human reason alone. Abu Zayd applied the philosophy 
and literary criticism he had learned from European postmodernism to 
the Qur'an, acknowledging that the book was divine but insisting that the 
meaning of its text shifted with language and social context. Its specific 
rules and references are thus not fixed in their meaning according to the 
classical understanding of Muslim scholars. In 1993 a colleague accused 
Abu Zayd of apostasy on the basis of his writings, and within two years 
an Egyptian court concurred. Threats on his life led the scholar into exile 
in the Netherlands. Oddly, Abu Zayd's approach shared much with pre- 
modern Islamic interpretive methods. But in his reading of the Qur'an his 
lodestar was the postmodern literary theory of Europe and not the native 
Islamic ethos of venerating God's word. This colored him irreparably as 
an agent of Western influence. 

In 2007 controversy also highlighted sensitivities around the Hadiths 
and the persona of the Prophet. An Egyptian pundit mentioned tangentially 
in an article that the Prophet Muhammad had not been born circumcised, 
a statement that ran contrary to widely believed miraculous reports that he 
had been. Acrimony from conservative Muslim groups gathered steam, and 
public outrage resulted in the writer's dismissal. Yet this religious outrage 
was more an inflamed reaction to perceived attacks on Islamic tradition 
than an expression of Islamic tradition itself. Whether or not the Prophet 
had been born circumcised had never before been a question of any great 
consequence among Muslim scholars. Although many pre-modern ulama 
had affirmed the reliability of Hadiths describing the Prophet as having 
been born preternaturally circumcised - one of the miraculous signs of 
his mission - many leading ulama had considered those Hadiths baseless. 
Among these skeptics were Ibn Kathir and Ibn Qayyim, both students of 


Ibn Taymiyya and among the definitive references for conservative Muslims 
in the Arab world. The outrage at the journalist was a novel byproduct of 
modern insecurities about the Islamic canon. 11 

In modern Egypt, and perhaps anywhere in the Muslim world, no two 
issues have proven as controversial as the great knots of women's status 
and religious violence. No topics more succinctly embody the incredible 
tension between submission to scriptural tradition and the call to replace 
it with secular mores, between the perceived influence of Western impe- 
rialism and a rally to resistance through championing claims of authentic, 
indigenous identity. Women's persons have tragically often been the field 
on which these and other questions have been contested, and violence is 
the ultimate form that such contesting can take. 


Around the year 1300, Osman Ghazi and his band of Turkic warriors lodged 
with a Sufi dervish in the wilds of Anatolia. The founder of what became 
the Ottoman dynasty dreamed that the moon exited the holy man's mouth 
andpassed into his own chest. A great tree sprang forth from the warrior's 
breast, its branches arching over the whole world. 

The pre-modern Shariah tradition was sprawling in its diversity. One of 
its common threads was the quiescent but universal assumption that Islam's 
eventual destiny was manifest. Regardless of the infrequency, infeasibility 
or even undesirability of holy war against non-Muslim foes, all schools of 
law agreed that it was the collective duty of the Muslim polity to expand 
the borders of the Abode of Islam. 

This pre-modern jihad narrative was terminated abruptly with the 
arrival of the European powers. The might of industry and totally restruc- 
tured organs of state and society allowed the armies and navies of Britain, 
France, Russia and the Netherlands to occupy great swaths of Muslim land. 
This ended any pretense of the ancient dynamic in which the Abode of 
Islam existed in a state of constant, impending expansion into non-Muslim 
territory, with peace and truces mere exceptions to this rule. From North 
Africa to India, the ulama and Muslim rulers of the nineteenth century faced 
an upturned balance of power in which colonial rulers claimed legitimate 
sovereignty over their holdings according to a system of treaties and legal 


understandings that they had constructed and which only they had the 
military force to challenge with any hope of success. \ 

Faced with the irresistible might of the colonial regimes, some Muslim 
scholars reconsidered the obligation of jihad. This would have been a tall 
order for the interpretive methodology of the pre-modern ulama, as the 
duty of jihad was a Shariah stance that enjoyed uncontested consensus in 
a legal system that considered such consensus binding. Reformists like 
'Abduh and Rida, however, developed a perspective on the Shariah that 
allowed them to break loose of the constraints of this consensus culture. 
They built on the medieval revivalist Hanbali school of Ibn Taymiyya and 
its notion that consensus really only existed among Muslims at the time of 
the Companions. After that it was simply impossible to verify. Rida retooled 
this idea to argue that later agreements could overrule all earlier claims of 
consensus as long as they promoted clear public interest (maslaha) and 
that, in the modern world, consensus could only be declared by those 
Islamic thinkers who truly understood the political and social challenges 
of the day. 12 

A great crisis came in India in 1857. In the wake of the failed rebel- 
lion of both Hindu and Muslim sepoys against British rule, the Raj began 
marginalizing Muslims in its army and administration out of a fear that 
extremist violence was an irrepressible Muslim trait. Sir Sayyid Ahmad 
Khan, an Islamic modernist who believed that Islam must be reformed 
in order to survive, argued that Muslims under British rule were, in fact, 
forbidden from rebelling against their British rulers. He understood the 
Qur'an's commands to wage war as applicable only in response to religious 
persecution. It did not mandate a blanket offensive against non-Muslims, 
even those who ruled over Muslim populations. To prove this, he cited a 
well-respected Hadith that, when the Prophet was set to engage in battle 
with a tribe, he would wait until the morning to hear if the call to prayer 
rang out in the enemy camp. If he heard this proof of Muslims practicing 
their religion among the enemy host, he would not make war on them. 
The British regime allowed India's Muslims to practice their religion freely, 
Khan assessed, and Muslims must therefore accept colonial rule. 13 

European criticisms of Islam as an ideology that preached holy war 
concerned many ulama in the Mediterranean world, such as Abduh and 
Rida, as well. They argued that the true, original doctrine of jihad in the 
Prophet's time was a call to defend against aggression or religious persecu- 
tion only, and that all the wars fought by Muhammad had been defensive in 


nature. Rida was able to break away from the traditional Shariah consensus 
on jihad and ignore the more bellicose Hadiths because of his reform- 
ist methodology. He argued that Islam and the Shariah are known only 
through the Qur'an, the few 'widely and diffusely transmitted' Hadiths 
and the 'living Sunna' of universal Muslim practice. In a broadly published 
and translated defense of the Qur'an as legitimate scripture, he argued that 
Islam called for peaceful relations between nations, each allowed to live 
and practice its religion in peace. The early Islamic conquest of Arabia was 
an exception to this, the singular creation of a necessary cradle and safe 
space for Islam to flourish. 

This reformist interpretation of the Qur'an and Hadiths inverted the 
classical doctrine of jihad, reading the Qur'an's passages on warfare in their 
contexts instead of using the 'Sword Verses' to abrogate the revelation's 
principles of proportionality, mercy and the desirability ofpeace. Writing 
after the European system had revealed its own bloodthirstiness in the First 
World War, Rida remarked that it was European nationalism and German 
warmongering that were the true culprits in fomenting global violence. 14 

This rereading of scripture on jihad resulted in a doctrine comparable 
to the Western tradition of just war theory. It proved most appealing to 
Muslim rulers in states like Egypt, which were attempting to modernize first 
under colonial rule and then within the Atlantic system of international law. 
The Egyptian government from the 1940s onward consistently promoted 
the general ethos of Abduhs approach to Islam, appointing proponents 
of this reformist vision to the highest religious offices. 

Many readers, however, are more familiar with the jihad narrative 
created by those actors who have worked against these modernizing 
states and outside the international system that they had accepted. The 
extratextual realities of a new balance of power and modern statecraft 
led reformists like Rida to reread scripture and overhaul pre-modern 
discourse on jihad accordingly. But for Osama Bin Laden and the jihadist 
movements of the last forty years, the reality of the modern world was not 
'real' enough to overwhelm the scripture-centered worldview of classical 
jihad doctrine. Instead, for jihadists, modern realities only sharpened clas- 
sical understandings of the Qur'an and Hadiths. Their reading of scripture 
against global politics telescoped time and transposed the medieval into 
the modern world. In their view, the standing of Muslims in modern 
geopolitics mapped perfectly onto the circumstances of Muhammad s 
original call to jihad. 


This extremist doctrine of jihad found scriptural footing in a raw, unme- 
diated reading of the Qur'an and Hadiths. God permitted Muhammlad's 
followers to fight those who 'drove them from their homes' or attacked 
them. Was it then not legitimate to raise arms against the Israeli expul- 
sion of Muslims from their homes in Palestine, or following the Soviet 
and then American invasions of Muslim lands? On the basis of strong 
Hadith evidence, classical jihad doctrine had uniformly prohibited the 
intentional killing of civilians (some scholars like Malik and Awza'i even 
disallowed 'collateral damage'), but Bin Laden considered the Pentagon a 
military target and the World Trade Center a vitally symbolic organ of the 
capitalist imperial system that oppressed Muslims. Moreover, if Muslims 
were permitted to fight those unbelievers who victimized them for their 
religion, then what of supposedly Muslim governments that cast aside 
Shariah law for Western legal codes and consumerism, who imprisoned 
and executed pious Muslims? 15 

The extremist doctrine of jihad articulated by Bin Laden and others 
was a warped but recognizable descendant of the militant revivalism that 
burgeoned in the Wahhabi and Sokoto movements. They too had justified 
their expansionist jihads (mostly against Muslims they declared apostates) 
not by artful interpretation of scripture but by imagining themselves in 
the original contexts of that scripture itself, the pioneering monotheists 
purifying a heardand for Islam. They created black-and-white schemas 
that justified endless expansion when applied to the world around them. 
Callously caulking the theoretical technicalities of Shariah law onto the 
realities of a thorny world allowed them to attack lapsed Muslims and 
polytheist infidels alike. In the eyes of these militant revival movements, 
those who aided the enemy became legitimate targets as well. 16 

In the mid-twentieth century, this militant revivalism found a new, 
more abstract and politicized expression in the novel and influential read- 
ing of Islam's scriptures by Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian liberal literary critic 
turned Islamist. After an alleged Muslim Brotherhood assassination attempt 
against Egypt's new president, Gamal Abd al -Nasser, in 1 954 Qutb found 
hi mself in prison along with many other Muslim Brothers. Lingering in jail 
for over a decade, suffering from consumption and subjected to torture, 
Qutb scrawled ruminations on the Qur'an that would one day be published 
as the most widely read commentary on the Qur'an in the Arab world. 
Where classical Qur'anic commentaries were scholastic and concatenated, 
weighed down by dry grammatical analysis, occasions of revelation and 


scholarly opinions, In the Shade of the Qur'an was an intimate plunge into 
the holy book, fluid and experiential. It was an inhalation of the Qur'an's 
ethos of radical monotheism and a revolutionary critique of the modern 
world order, calling the reader not to earthly barricades for upheaval but 
to an internal inversion of spirit. In the new world Qutb envisioned, man 
would be honored and freed through total submission to God. 

Where Qutb's commentary on the Qur'an was too profound to be mere 
political propaganda, the radical manifestos he produced in the years 
before his execution in 1966 were politically catalyzing. In his seminal set 
of essays, first circulated secretly and later published together as Milestones, 
the immediacy of his reading of the Qur'an and Hadiths recasts the modern 
world as one in which the pre -Islamic 'Age of Ignorance' and idolatry once 
again reigns. The West and its dictator stooges rule through exploitative 
systems that subjugate man to man. The Qur'anic message is a call to lib- 
eration through submission to God, and jihad is the holistic struggle to 
overturn the idols of human despotism, injustice and the denial of God. 

The crux of Qutb's interpretation is the Qur'an's verses on God's abso- 
lute sovereignty, 'Rule is God's alone' and "Those who ruled by other than 
what God has revealed, they are the unbelievers' (12:40, 67). He had been 
strongly influenced by the Islamist thought of the Indian (later Pakistani) 
ideologue Abul Ala Mawdudi, and like him read these declarations as 
condemnations of secularization and the subordination of the Shariah to 
fickle, man-made regimes. 17 

For the vast majority of Egyptian (and other Arab) Muslims who pored 
through Qutb's Shade and Milestones as they flew off presses in Beirut 
and Cairo (after their unbanning in Egypt in 1975), his voice was a poetic 
call to a more deeply Islamic society, reconstituted and empowered. His 
jihad and denunciations of unbelief (kufr) were metaphors for overcoming 
Muslims' oppression through all-encompassing faith. 

For a small minority, Qutb's writings, especially his condemnation of 
'rule by other than God's law,' transformed the urge for Islamic revival 
into a radical political ideology. A return to the Qur'an and the Prophet s 
teachings took on the new dimension of a jihad against secular regimes in 
the Muslim world and their unbelieving sponsors in the West. The rever- 
berations of Qutb's thought in the ideologies of jihadist groups such as 
Al-Qaeda are palpable. 18 A worldview of battling against Crusader foes and 
so-called Muslim regimes that refuse to rule purely by the Shariah framed 
Osama Bin Laden's missives and interviews. 'What goes for us is whatever 


is found in the Book of God and the hadith of the Prophet,' he wrote, 
peppering his speeches with the Sword Verses in exhortation to jihad.P 

Bin Laden's use of the Qur'an and Hadiths to justify his path would 
require a book-length study in its own right. His 'first' jihad, however, is 
an illustrative example of how an artless mapping of scripture onto his 
perception of global geopolitics resulted in the gross oversimplification of 
Islam's rich interpretive heritage. Many ulama from within the conserva- 
tive religious establishment of Saudi Arabia had criticized the kingdom's 
ruling family for liberal living, allowing Western mores to penetrate Saudi 
society and for their close partnership with the United States, Israel's 
indispensable protector. But Bin Laden had been particularly severe and 
open in his criticism of the Saudi government for allowing US troops onto 
Saudi soil. Their number had peaked at half a million after the Saudis had 
requested US military protection against Saddam Hussein in 1990. He 
was also accused of crossing the threshold into violence in 1996, when 
explosions rocked the US military mission in Riyadh and a US military 
housing complex in Khobar, on the kingdom's east coast. 

The outrage of many Saudi ulama about the presence of US troops 
on their country's soil is not difficult to understand. They were angered 
by their government's alliance with the US and its allowing non-Muslim 
troops to use their country as a base for attacks on fellow Muslims from 
the First Gulf War onward. It is simplistic and naive to explain jihadism 
merely as an inevitable growth from Islam's 'violent' scripture, or as no 
more than a miscarried interpretation triggered solely by some tragic mis- 
reading. It cannot be separated from economic discontent, the enveloping 
context of US global power, America's influence and military actions in 
the Muslim world and, most of all, the gaping sore of the Israel-Palestine 
conflict. Bin Laden, however, grounded his immediate objection to US 
and Saudi policy in Islamic scripture and what he considered the Saudi 
government's egregious transgression of clear Shariah law. He begins his 
1996 'Declaration of Jihad against the Americans Occupying the Land of 
the Two Holy Sanctuaries' with a Hadith from Sahih Bukhari: part of the 
Prophet's deathbed testament was the instruction to 'Expel the polytheists 
from the Peninsula of the Arabs.' 20 

Bin Laden was no stranger to the classical tradition of Islamic scholar- 
ship. He occasionally draws on the authority of medieval Hanbalis such as 
Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qudama in his speeches and interviews. The pro- 
phetic command he cited was well established, and its order of expulsion 


was not limited to pagan Arabs alone. In another authenticated Hadith 
Muhammad declared: 'Indeed I will expel the Jews and the Christians 
from the Peninsula of the Arabs so that I leave only Muslims.' This was not 
accomplished until the reign of the second caliph, Umar, who acted on 
the Prophet's order and expelled the Jews of the oasis of Khaybar, north 
of Medina, from the Hejaz. 

The Islamic justification for Bin Laden's early jihad becomes much 
murkier when one investigates how even the earliest Muslim scholars 
had interpreted the details of the Prophet's order. The 'Peninsula of 
the Arabs' may seem an obvious geographical unit on maps today, but 
its medieval definition was narrower and its Shariah status contested. 
Bukhari notes that it was the area of the twin shrine cities of Mecca and 
Medina, extending south to the mountains of Yemen and east across the 
craggy ridges of the Hejaz to the central Arabian oases of Yamama (near 
present-day Riyadh). Hence Malik had concluded that Umar had not 
expelled the Jews of the Tayma oasis in the northern Hejaz because it 
was not considered part of 'the Peninsula of the Arabs.' In later centuries 
Christian merchants would even accompany Hajj caravans from Syria 
down into the Hejaz until they were within three days' travel of Medina. 
Furthermore, medieval ulama recognized that the 'Peninsula of the Arabs' 
could not include Yemen, since Jewish communities had flourished there 
since the beginning of Islam. 21 

There was also notable disagreement among the Sunni schools of law 
on the rules governing the exclusive 'Peninsula' zone. The caliph Umar 
had allowed Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians three days every year to 
buy and sell from the markets of Medina. The Shafi'i school of law thus 
held that no unbeliever could settle in the region between Mecca, Medina 
and Yamama, but they could enter with permission for up to three days on 
diplomatic duties or ifbearingvital goods. They were only prohibited from 
entering the sacred Haram Mosque of Mecca, where the Kaaba stands. Most 
Hanafis, by contrast, had allowed unbelievers, even those from outside 
the Abode of Islam,' to live in the Hejaz and enter the Haram of Mecca 
and stay there as a traveler, provided they did not settle. Individuals could 
even be allowed to enter the Kaaba. 22 Crucially, the very 'Peninsula of the 
Arabs' that Bin Laden claimed the Prophet ordered to be cleansed of non- 
Muslims actually hosted very few of them. Prior to the 1996 bombings 
of US installations, most American forces were near the east coast of the 
country, far from the prohibited enclave. 


While Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda leadership were tailoring their 
readings of the Qur'an and Hadiths to legitimize their involvement in 
geopolitical conflicts, other jihadists were realizing how superficial these 
readings were. The heavy-handed suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood 
in Egypt under the Arab nationalist state of the 1960s had crushed the 
organization there. Then, concerned about increased communist appeal 
in Egypt during the 1970s, President Anwar Sadat began allowing Islamist 
activism as an ideological counterweight. The university students who 
formed the energetic Islamic societies' in the newfound freedom of the 
1970s were shocked when protests against government economic and 
political policies revealed the limits of Sadat's tolerance. 

Arrested by Egypt's security forces and often brutalized in prison, 
leading members of one Islamist group in particular, the Jama a Islamiyya, 
turned back to the writings of Sayyid Qutb with a new perspective. His 
characterization of Egypt's government as a resurrection of pre-Islamic 
paganism rang prophetically when prison interrogators tortured the young 
activists for what the victims could only assume was their sincere faith in 
Islam. When prisoners called out to God during torture, the guards mocked 
them with barbs like, 'Bringyour God and we'll put him in a cell too.' The 
Jama'a activists concluded that they were indeed facing pure enemies of 
God just as the Prophet had. 23 They and other Islamist groups turned to 
violence against the infidel state. The Jama' a Islamiyya and another small 
cadre called thejama'tjihad cooperated in assassinating Sadat and a failed 
uprising against the government in Upper Egypt in 1981. Locked in a 
destructive tit-for- tat with the Egyptian security services, through the late 
1990s Jama'a Islamiyya militants carried out sporadic and horrific attacks 
on state interests and tourist sites. 

Imprisoned for almost twenty years, however, the leadership of the 
Jama'a Islamiyya passed their time in group study, reading works of clas- 
sical Hanbali law and the books of Ibn Taymiyya. In light of the classical 
ulama's interpretations, they came to re- evaluate the rhetorical reading of 
the Qur'an and Hadiths that characterized Qutb's writings. Eager to end 
their destructive and futile conflict with the state, in 2002 the imprisoned 
Jama'a members negotiated a ceasefire with the Egyptian government in 
return for better prison conditions, and in 2006 most were released. 

While still in prison, in 2004 leading thinkers in the organization 
produced a set of concise, accessible booklets entitled the 'Series for 
Correcting Understandings,' which condemned violent extremism on the 


basis of sound interpretation of scripture. The reformed Jama'a members 
warned that a main cause of religious extremism was the literal reading of 
the Qur'an and Hadiths, without qualified ulama as guides or an under- 
standing of the overarching principles of the Shariah. 

Most crucially, these booklets took on the main justification for jihadist 
attacks on other Muslims. According to those who adopted the jihadist 
perspective, those states and even those Muslim peoples who were not 
implementing or living by the Shariah, thus 'ruling by other than what 
God has revealed,' were declaring themselves apostates - with lethal con- 
sequences. The Jama'a booklets countered this extremist understanding 
by turning to the interpretations noted by Tirmidhi over a millennium 
earlier. The 'unbelief of not ruling by God's law or even persecuting other 
Muslims was a rhetorical condemnation of impiety and iniquity, not an 
expulsion from the Muslim fold - 'an unbelief other than [true] unbelief." 
Drawing on the works of Ibn Taymiyya and his disciples - flawless pedigree 
among Salafis and militants - they explained how kufr (unbelief) takes 
both greater and lesser form. The former truly removes one from Islam as 
an apostate. Yet it comes only from denying something 'known essentially 
as part of the religion,' namely a core tenet that has been communicated 
by a scriptural text certain in both its attestation and indication, agreed 
upon by the consensus of the ulama and uniformly well known among 
the Muslim masses. Denying the requirement to pray five times a day, for 
example, would constitute such an act. Simply not praying out of laziness 
would not. The lesser form of unbelief is merely a sin, not a crime worthy 
of death. 24 

The repentant jihadists found that the leading Salafi scholars of the 1980s 
and 1990s had been preaching against the warped literalism of extremists 
for decades. Rooted in the Hadith-based teachings of early Sunnis like Ibn 
Hanbal, these Salafi shaykhs were political quietists who rejected vigi- 
lantism and rebellion against the state. Exemplified by the Syrian Hadith 
scholar Nasir al-Din Albani, they believed that Muslims should focus on 
purifying their beliefs and practice and that, in time, God would bring vic- 
tory over the forces of falsehood and unbelief. They affirmed completely 

* Less conciliatory Islamists such as Ahmad Shakir, the leadership of Egypt's Salafi 
Call movement and (earlier in his career) Salman Auda have objected to using tnis 
interpretation by Ibn Abbas as a license for accepting non-Shariah law. They argue 
that Ibn Abbas meant that a judge who erred in a ruling was not guilty of ruling by 
'other than what God had revealed; not that Muslims could accept a legal system as 
better than the Shariah. 


the classical jihad doctrine, but this doctrine only allowed a jihad to be 
declared and led by the ruler of a Muslim polity. It was not a personal 
mission taken up by angry individuals or non-state actors. Non-Muslim 
visitors in Muslim lands, even members of foreign militaries, could not be 
harmed because they had received permission from the state to be there. 25 
Fiery youths attending the lectures of Salafi scholars like Albani often 
objected that the Prophet had taught that, "Whoever among you sees 
something reprehensible, let him change it with his hand, and if not that, 
then with this tongue, and if not that, then with his heart, but this is the 
weakest of faith.' Should believing Muslims not then lift their hands to end 
the injustices and iniquities around them - by force? The shaykhs replied 
with a standard medieval interpretation of this Hadith. As Nawawi had 
explained, such passages of scripture had to be interpreted in accordance 
with established Shariah principles, such as the state's sole prerogative in 
declaring jihad. 'Changing the reprehensible by hand,' or by compulsion, 
was the purview of the state alone. 'Changing with the tongue' was the 
right of the ulama. Ordinary, individual Muslims should only reject the 
reprehensible with their hearts. 26 


A mad admixture of political campaigning and revolutionary tension, the 
fall of 201 1 and the springof2012 found Egyptians of every political stripe 
in febrile preparation for their country's first free democratic election of 
a leader. Ever. Islamists, liberals and supporters of the ancien regime vied 
furiously for the attention of the electorate. The powerful newcomer in 
Egypt's political arena was none other than the Salafi movement, whose 
bearded scholars (many of them students of Albani) had spent thirty 
years avoiding the worst of state crackdowns on islamists by preaching 
the medieval, politically quietist version of Ibn Taymiyya's conservative, 
Hadith-based revivalism. They had built up an unrealized mass of followers 
in the mosques of Cairo and Egypt's Delta. Salafi scholars and preachers 
were now tasked with mobilizing their flocks for politics. 

In a cheap paperback booklet entitled How to Choose the President of 
the Republic, for sale outside many mosques, the popular Salafi scholar 
Raghib Sirgani outlined the conservative Islamist criteria for Egypt's 


future head of state. The essential requirement was that the candidate 
be Muslim and committed to applying the Shariah, 'or else the country 
will fall into a state of enmity with God.' Another important require- 
ment was that the president be a man, since the Prophet had said in 
an authenticated Hadith that A community that entrusts its affairs to a 
woman will not flourish.' 27 

In the West, calls for the Shariah are viewed with confusion and fear, 
accompanied by media flashes of bearded rage and reviving receded 
memories of medieval inquisitions. Polls demonstrate that for Egyptians, 
conversely, the 'Shariah' is associated with notions of political, social and 
gender justice. In 201 1, 80 to 87 percent of Egyptians polled wanted the 
Shariah to be a source of law in the country. Even amid the political chaos 
in early 2013, a full 58 percent of Egyptians still said that the country's 
laws should strictly follow the Qur'an. 28 Few Egyptians, even Islamist 
politicians, could explain exactly what that would mean. The place of the 
Shariah in their consciousness seems oddly similar to the Constitution 
for Americans; all venerate it, but few have read it in its entirety No one 
knows what applying it always means. 

Calls for the Shariah in Egypt and other Muslim countries emanate 
from a deep recess in people's souls. The cry for the Shariah is a surrogate 
expression for a longing for dignity, independence, justice and control 
over one's destiny in a world seemingly controlled by outsiders and outside 
agendas. It goes far back. 

In 1950, a female graduate of Cairo's law faculty wrote the Minister of 
Justice complaining that, as a woman, she was not permitted the opportu- 
nity to serve as a public prosecutor - and eventually a judge - in Egypt's by 
then European-inspired civil law judiciary. She complained that this was 
no way to understand a religion birthed by women like Aisha, who was 
one of the leading transmitters of Hadiths from the Prophet and who was 
sought out by her male comrades as a teacher. The minister directed the 
complaint to Egypt's ulama. The letter provoked an enduring controversy 
over whether or not women could hold offices of public responsibility 
and ultimately if they could serve as the leader of the government. It was 
a controversy that again brought Islamic scripture and its proper inter- 
pretation to the fore. 

One figure who responded to the letter was Ahmad Shakir, an Al-Azhar 
cleric and a judge in Cairo's family courts, the last bastion of Shariah law 
in Egypt's judiciary. Shakir was an important link between the Egyptian 


ulama and the Wahhabi scholars of Saudi Arabia, where the revivalist 
thought of Ibn Taymiyya was undergoing a renaissance. Shakir, in fact, 
was a founding figure of the Salafi movement in Egypt. In a journal article 
responding to the letter, he acknowledged the diversity of Shariah opinion 
on women serving as judges; Hanafis allowed them to do so on financial 
matters, and other early jurists had allowed them overall. But this was not 
the crux of the matter at hand, Shakir insisted. The choice that truly faced 
Egypt was whether it would be a Muslim polity ruled by Shariah law or if 
it would accept the Western separation of religion from the state and legal 
system. The demands of feminist activists like the letter's author simply 
revealed this moment of choice plainly. 

Shakir knew that his species, the classically trained cleric working in a 
Shariah court, was already endangered. Until the First World War, Egypt 
remained nominally part of the Ottoman Empire. The land of the Nile, 
however, had gained effective independence under an Albanian dynasty 
that often outpaced their titular masters in Istanbul in military, social and 
legal reform . Caught in the heady rush o f mo dernization and under recent 
British military occupation, in 1883 the Egyptian government had ordered 
the hasty promulgation of a civil law code based on European models and 
drawing on the French Napoleonic Code (in fact, it was first drafted in 
French and then translated into Arabic). The new 'National Courts' system 
even hired many of its judges from Europe. The Shariah courts that had 
administered justice in Egypt for centuries continued to exist and were 
allowed to hear any cases brought before them. The ulama nursed hopes 
that this European law code would be temporary pending the adoption of 
a Shariah-based code. But the transition away from ulama applying God's 
law to European-trained jurists applying secular law codes had begun. 29 

The uniform, statist character of the French civil law code supported 
the concerted will of states like Egypt and the Ottoman Empire to achieve 
greater centralization. The Shariah courts and the decentralized legal 
tradition they applied did not. Since the medieval period, in some areas 
of the Islamic world courts for all four schools of Shariah law coexisted. 
Even in less legally diverse areas like the Maghreb, senior judges could 
draw upon Islamic law to offer the most equitable ruling. Unlike this often 
varied and fluid Shariah system, the nineteenth-century Ottoman world 
witnessed a move toward more standardization. This occurred first in 
the Shariah courts, where sole reliance on the 'official' Hanafi ruling in 
any case became the norm. But it was still the ulama who acted as judges. 


Moreover, the plurality of Hanafi law books, each with its own opinion on 
what constituted the 'official' ruling, still allowed these judges flexibility 
in deciding a case. More importantly, the ulama were still the maintainers 
of this realm, 'Charged with developing the law as times changed. With the 
new, formalized civil code, drafted by European-trained lawyers for appli- 
cation by European-trained judges, this would all change. The code laid 
out strict, non-Shariah guidelines for how any crime was punished or case 
decided, and changing it would be the work of legislators and parliaments. 

As the twentieth century dawned and it became clear that legal reforms 
were as much about secularization as centralization, Egypt's ulama began 
objecting loudly. They not only believed that the rule of Shariah law - even 
if reigning only in theory - was the essential feature of a Muslim state, 
but manning the Shariah courts or at least training the judges was a main 
avenue for their employment. The objections of the ulama had little effect 
on the Egyptian government or its British masters, however. The National 
Courts applied the French-inspired code, and each court had at least one 
European judge in it. Only family law, covering areas like marriage, divorce 
and inheritance, as well as homicide cases, was still adjudicated in Shariah 
courts or by classically trained ulama. 30 

After the Second World War, the Egyptian government tried to create 
a new, unified law code that was both modern and Islamically legitimate. 
It turned to 'Abd al-Razzaq Sanhuri, a brilliant French-trained Egyptian 
jurist who cultivated Islamic modernist sensibilities and had pioneered a 
novel drafting of Islamic law. The Shariah, he argued, consisted of a core 
of unchanging rules and values, which had always formed the unifying 
nexus of the disparate Sunni schools of law. This core of principles is what 
any Muslim polity must preserve in its legal system in order to remain 
true to the Shariah's aims. These unchanging principles might manifest 
themselves differently at different times and in different contexts. It did 
not matter what precise shape they took or what specific rules they put 
in place, as long as they were the driving force in a particular legal code. 
After deducing these unchanging principles, Sanhuri created a new set of 
laws that he felt promoted them. 

This was totally different from the ulama's practice of either following 
the main opinion of one school of law, choosing its most equitable offering 
or selecting an appropriate or convenient ruling from the diverse menu o 
laws found in the four Sunni schools. Sanhuri was creating a new body of 
laws out of whole cloth that he claimed embodied the spirit and aims of the 


Shariah. Since the actual origin of any of the particular rules in question 
was not important, only their fidelity to the Shariah's values, Sanhuri felt 
free to take many of them directly from European law codes. Prominent 
ulama and the Muslim Brotherhood protested this new law code vehe- 
mently. Some called for a complete return to the Shariah tradition and 
others, at the very least, for a code composed only of rules chosen from 
the Shariah schools. But Sanhuri, who was the Minister of Education at 
the time, proved too powerful and convincing, and the Egyptian parlia- 
ment passed the law. 31 

For Shakir and others like him, this was a devilish and insidious devel- 
opment. The Shariah was not just a set of values or aims to be promoted. It 
rested on a core of concrete, eternal rulings, not principles. At its heart were 
the Hudud, or 'boundaries' set by God and the Prophet, like the Quranic 
punishments for adultery and certain types of theft, as well as other fixed 
rules, such as those governing inheritance. These could not be changed, 
regardless of circumstance. In a plea to his fellow Egyptian Muslims, Shakir 
compared Egypt's choice to the precarious and vulnerable position of 
the Muslim Umma when the heathen Mongols occupied its heartlands in 
the thirteenth century. But whereas the Muslims of that bygone age had 
confidently drawn their Mongol rulers into the fold of Islam as initiates, 
convincing them of the wisdom of ruling by their new God's law, the 
Muslims of the twentieth century were so enamored of Western ways that 
they were gladly abandoning their faith and the system that protected it. 

Shakir wanted to pull away the veil from what he saw as the increasing 
'Western occupation' of Egypt's culture and religion. The women's rights 
movement, he wrote, was simply another avenue for Western penetra- 
tion into the Muslim world. Feminist activists and their supporters just 
wanted to enlighten Egypt, he mocked, 'yes, with the light of Europe! So 
that the Western masters will be pleased!' Islam had always encouraged 
the education of women, he affirmed. But the Shariah also gave Muslims 
clear rules that could not be changed simply because some foreign siren 
beckoned to Progress. All the schools of the Shariah held that women 
could not lead men in prayer and certainly not legitimately rule a country 
(though, always practical, pre-modern Sunni scholars had nonetheless 
required Muslims to obey a woman who usurped power). This was not 
subject to debate, Shakir stated, citing as insurmountable evidence the 
Prophet's declaration: A community that entrusts its affairs to a woman 
will not flourish.' 32 


In Shakir's day, many conservatives saw the forces struggling for the 
soul of Egypt and, he felt, the future of Islam, very clearly. On one side 
was the colonial, imperial, godless and morally bankrupt West. On the 
other was the autochthonous moral and spiritual anchor of the Qur'an, 
the Hadiths and Shariah law. In this sense, Shakir and Kevseri were kin. 
But as much as they both hated modernist reformers, Shakir and Kevseri 
despised each other's schools of thought just as much. Safaris like Shakir 
condemned as heresy popular Sufi practices like grave visitation, the tradi- 
tion of loyalty to one school of law and the scholastics of Ash'ari theology. 
These were the very air that Kevseri breathed, and he composed countless 
articles condemning Salafis and their Wahhabi sponsors as arrogant and 
moronic literalists who deigned to correct the centuries of accumulated 
truth embodied in the Sunni tradition. 

In his Salafi belief that Muslims had gone astray from the pure, unadul- 
terated and powerful Islam of the Umma's first generations, Shakir shared 
more with Westernizing, modernist reformers like Abduh than one might 
think. In fact, he praised the embattled Abduh for reviving the focused 
study of the Qur'an in Al- Azhar. Unlike Kevseri, for whom the glory of 
the Islamic past lived up until the cusp of the present, both Abduh and 
Shakir looked back into the well of early Islamic history and saw the pure 
Islam they wanted to renew. Abduh had seen a reflection of the West, a 
fantasy of order and progress where he had encountered 'Islam without 
Muslims.' Salafis like Shakir saw the dream of Ibn Taymiyya and the 
eighteenth-century revivalists, a classic Arabian Islam cleansed of the 
dross of superstition and foreign influence. 

In the decades between 'Abduh's death in 1905 and Shakir's angry 
writings, a hybrid strand of ulama had emerged that combined both their 
visions. Often supported by an Egyptian state eager for an Islamically 
kosher modernity, they were among the most prominent Islamic voices 
in Egypt and the Muslim world. One of Abduh's students (who had 
cared for his neglected widow when he died), Mustafa Maraghi, became 
the Rector of the Al-Azhar Mosque and presided over its transformation 
into a modern university. 'Bring me anything that benefits the people, 
he famously declared, 'and I'll show you a basis for it in the Shariah.' His 
loyal supporter and later Al-Azhar rector, Mahmud Shaltut, shored up the 
reformist doctrine of jihad with rigorous scholarship and wrote the earli- 
est fatwas prohibiting female circumcision. Where these middle-ground 
reformists and the Salafis overlapped was in their contempt for popular 


Sufi practices like saint veneration, dancing or group liturgies. Both also 
believed that Shariah law was the legal system favored by God, however 
far from application it had become. 

At the heart of this middle-ground reformist vision was an abiding 
desire to fend off an epistemological break in the religious lives of Muslims. 
Scholars like Maraghi and Shaltut championed the canon of Islamic scrip- 
ture out of fear that it and the religious culture around it would recede into 
history. They developed an understanding of Islam as a streamlined and 
unchanging core built on the certitudes of the Qur'an and agreed upon, 
uncontested Hadiths, confirmed by a few undisputed tenets of scholarly 
consensus. Muslims could believe in the flourishes of popular religion or 
law outside this core, but they could not insist that they were integral parts 
of Islam, and no one could be called an unbeliever for rejecting them. 33 
In a sense, they took the classical doctrine requiring that, as a minimum, 
Muslims embrace those tenets 'known essentially as part of the religion' 
and made it public to the masses. Torn between tradition and Western 
modernity, Muslims would know the basic core of Islam from which no 
more concessions to modernity could be chipped. 

Western power and the allure of its model was an undeniable reality 
for the middle-ground reformists, however much they resented its loom- 
ing presence. They clung tightly to the foundational scriptures of Islam, 
especially the Qur'an, as the mooring of Islamic identity. Like 'Abduh, they 
hoped to construct an Islamic modernism that matched the West, but they 
were committed not to fall into the orbit of its epistemological worldview. 

In Egypt of the late twentieth century, the figure who strove hardest 
and most successfully to accomplish this was Muhammad Ghazali, an 
Al-Azhar scholar and a disciple of Shaltut. His countless books on every 
aspect of Islam and reviving its proper understanding, with titles like Our 
Intellectual Heritage, Renew Your Life and Islam and Women's Issues, still 
sell briskly at Cairo's impromptu sidewalk bookstalls. Through the decades 
of his prolific writing and serving as an imam in Cairo's leading mosques, 
Ghazali picked many fights and earned even more admirers. 

The constant of his mission never changed. He labored to construct a 
modern Islamic revival that would push back the tide of foreign encroach- 
ment, however it shifted form over the decades. He aimed to restore 
Muslims' pride in their religion. Ghazali railed in his sermons, books and 
articles against secular Arab socialism during its acme in the 1960s and 
against Sadat's capitalist opening to the West in the 1970s. The scholar 


was widely loved. When the editor of Egypt's state newspaper of record, 
Al-Ahram, published caricatures mocking Ghazali for publicly speaking 
against Nasser's socialism in 1962, an angry crowd of protesters marched 
from the Al-Azhar Mosque after Friday prayers to swarm the paper's offices 
and defend the shaykh. 34 

Again and again in his long career, Ghazali turned to the question of 
women's rights and improving them within a framework indigenous to 
the Islamic tradition. As the decades passed, his thought developed and 
he became ever more convinced of the need for dramatic change in how 
observant Muslims viewed a woman's place in society. A Hanafi jurist by 
training, he leveraged that school's qualitative distinction between the 
standing of the Qur'an and that of the Hadiths, as well as its unique per- 
spective on germane issues, into a pioneering methodology for reform. 

Especially during his years spent teaching in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s, 
and during the blooming of Salafi activity in Egypt in the 1980s, Ghazali 
directed his writings toward countering those who used literalist readings 
of Hadiths to exacerbate Egypt's already conservative gender mores. But 
to challenge this reliance on scripture without signaling treason to the 
Hadith canon would be a difficult task. Where earlier reformists like Sidqi 
had sought to rescue Islam by casting aside Hadiths altogether, Ghazali 
understood instinctively that threatening the canon of scripture would 
alienate the wider Muslim public. Where Abduh's reformist gravitas had 
been dragged down by his proximity to Western gender norms, Ghazali's 
unbending opposition to aping either Eastern bloc socialism or the West 
strengthened his credibility. One of Ghazali's last, and certainly his most 
controversial, books would confront the Salafi reliance on Hadiths and 
Egypt's gender conservatism head-on. 

Of the many issues that Ghazali tookup in The Prophetic Sunna: Between 
the Jurists and the Hadith Scholars, the question ofwomen assuming posi- 
tions of leadership was the thorniest. His negotiation of the Hadith Against 
Women Ruling illustrates perfectly the challenge of balancing the truth 
of scripture with extratextual realities in an era when the very culture in 
which texts were read was so contested. 

Like medieval ulama readingthe Hadith of the Sun Prostrating, Ghazali 
felt that empirical experience plainly contradicted the prediction that A 
community that entrusts its affairs to a woman will not flourish. A woman, 
Golda Meir, he remarked in a jab at a generation of failed, 'mustachioed 
Arab leaders, had led Israel to victory over her country's enemies. Indira 


Gandhi and, in particular, Margaret Thatcher were two more female lead- 
ers widely respected both at home and abroad. Aware that 'flourishing' 
might well be a question of the Hereafter more than of earthly success, 
Ghazali invoked a Qur'anic example as well. The Hadith, he asserted, 
blatantly contradicted the holy book. In the Qur'anic pericope of King 
Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, the queen rules over a prosperous and 
powerful kingdom that errantly worships the sun instead of the one God. 
When Solomon convinces her by way of miraculous signs to abandon her 
idolatry, she professes, T submit before God, along with Solomon, to the 
Lord of all the worlds' (27:23-44). Here, Ghazali concludes, was a woman 
leader who not only ruled over a flourishing realm but also guided it from 
religious error to the straight path of Islam. Ghazali asks his reader, 'Would 
a nation led by this rare type of woman fail?' 35 

The Hadith warning against women leaders, however, was found in the 
illustrious Sahih Bukhari, just like the Hadith of the Fly. Dismissing it as a 
forgery or error would invite the same fate as Sidqi had suffered. Instead, 
Ghazali contextualized the Hadith as a specific statement, not a general 
command. He described how this Hadith was narrated from the Prophet 
by a Companion who recalled that, 'When it reached the Prophet that the 
Persians had placed the daughter of [their former king] Chosroes on the 
throne, he said, "A country that entrusts its affairs to a woman will not 
flourish.'" The Prophet was merely remarking on the dismal condition 
of the Persian Empire's ruling family, which, in fact, was plagued with a 
cycle of no less than eight hapless emperors in the four years between 628 
and 632. These included two daughters from the royal family, neither of 
whom had any experience with command. Ghazali concluded that medi- 
eval Muslim scholars had incorrectly interpreted this specific assessment 
as a universal declaration. 36 

By implying strongly that women could lead a Muslim polity, Ghazali 
was effectively in uncharted Shariah territory. Bypassing the great ware- 
house of medieval Islamic thought, which had understood this Hadith as 
prohibiting women rulers, and returning to the Qur'an opened the door 
for him to take even more dramatic positions. Margaret Thatcher's promi- 
nence on the world stage had an enduring impact on Ghazali in his later 
years, even after his controversial Prophetic Sunna was published. In the 
1990s he found himself questioning the basis for many of the Shariah laws 
on women's role in society, such as the Shariah rules governing women 
acting as witnesses in court. 


The Qur'an had instructed Muslims engaged in making loans or com- 
mercial transactions to have their contracts witnessed 'by two men, or 
by a man and two women, so that if one of them forgets, the other may 
remind her' (2;282). While the majority of Sunni schools understood 
this as meaning that women could only bear witness in cases concerning 
financial transactions, and even then carrying only half the evidentiary 
,1 value of a man, the Hanafi school held that they were fundamentally sound 
y witnesses and could thus testify in other matters such as marriage, divorce, 
inheritance and even manslaughter. Ghazali stepped even further than 
his Hanafi school on this matter. Acting on the same principle invoked 
f by medieval Hanafis in the case of Zakat categories, Ghazali deemed the 

reasons for which God had treated female witnesses differently than males 
to be obsolete. He understood the Qur'an's commandment on witnessing 
to be premised on a world where women had little commercial experi- 
ence. In the modern world, in which women ran corporations, the reason 
behind the Qur'anic laws no longer applied. 

Ghazali touched still more sensitive chords. He caused tremors in the 
audience when, speaking on a panel, he addressed the question of women 
leading men in prayer. He brought up the possibility of Dr. Aisha 'Abd al- 
Rahman, an esteemed and pious Egyptian scholar of Islam, having to pray 
behind some unaccomplished, junior scholar. Was this really appropriate, 
he demanded of the stunned audience? 37 

By the time of his death in 1996, this tireless reformist certainly had 
many critics. Salafi opponents and more conservative Al-Azhar clerics 
accused Ghazali of assigning more weight to extratextual morality and 
perceived welfare than to clear prescriptions from the Qur'an and authentic 
Hadiths. In the eyes of Salafis like Albani or Shakir, the accomplishments 
: of a leader like Thatcher were ephemeral and carried no weight when put 

? up against the West's rejection of Islam's religious and social- message. 

'> Whether or not a nation seemed to prosper under Golda Meir or Thatcher 

% did not alter the Prophet's guidance or the immutability of the Shariah. 

§. Conservative critics often dismissed Ghazali and others preaching such 
■jjjf" reforms as 'imitators of the West.' 38 

Even Ghazali's close friend and admirer for almost half a century, a man 
who would emerge as the most influential global Sunni scholar of the early 
twenty-first century, Yusuf Qaradawi, could not second an approach to the 
Qur'an and Hadiths that subordinated their decrees so definitively to our 
own assessments of how and why they were revealed. Yet he defended his 


late friend and teacher as best he could. In a paean to Ghazali, Qaradawi 
pointed out that, behind all the controversy, Ghazali almost always had 
some precedent for his stances, even if obscure, especially in the byzan- 
tine law books of the Hanafi school.* Phrasing his critique as delicately as 
possible, Qaradawi recognized that allowing a woman to lead the Muslim 
Umma was an exception. It had no basis and was an inconceivable and 
anomalous stance innovated by Ghazali. 39 A scholar referred to by some 
as 'the global mufti,' Qaradawi has always been more conservative, less 
sanguine and less emotive than his friend. Certainly, the Shariah allows for 
changes according to time, place and culture, Qaradawi has acknowledged. 
Local custom can define how much dower a husband pays a bride, or when 
a sales transaction is concluded. But no matter how far women advanced 
in education and employment, this could not change an unambiguous 
edict laid down by God and His Messenger. 40 Epitomizing the converse 
of Ghazali's approach, one scholar of Mecca had written that, even if the 
Prophet's wife Aisha herself came to bear witness in court, her sole testi- 
mony would not be accepted. This despite the fact that many of the rulings 
of the Shariah itself were established by Hadiths that Aisha alone narrated 
from the Prophet. Any inconsistency that we sense in such matters comes 
merely from our inability to grasp the 'divine secrets' of God's justice, the 
Meccan scholar wrote. 41 

The debate sparked over six decades ago with a female law graduate's 
petition to apply for a judgeship continues in Egypt and elsewhere to this 
day. Though little more than a pamphlet, Sirgani's directions on choosing 
Egypt's president nevertheless grant ample space to rebutting Ghazali's 
historicization of the Hadith Against Women Ruling. "The Hadith is general 
in application,' Sirgani argues, Ghazali clearly in his sights, 'and those who 
claim it is specified must provide some evidence for that.' He points to a 
version of the Hadith in the SahihBukhari that Ghazali had not mentioned. 
The Companion who transmitted the Hadith from the Prophet recalled 
that, when the civil wars broke out in the years after Muhammad's death, 
he had inclined toward j oining an army led by Aisha. Then he remembered 
the Prophet's prediction and realized this would be an error. Even the 
Companions, Sirgani concludes, understood that the Hadith was a general 
warning for the future as well. 42 

* Ibn Taymiyya and his disciple Ibn Qayyim had argued that the Qur'anic equation 
of two women to one man pertained only to notarizing a loan, not bearing witness in 
court. There a woman of sound mind and character was equal to a man. 



Contemporary norms in the West commonly disapprove of marriages 
between couples with large age differences. Cursory glances at Western 
media catch on headlines like 'She's twenty-three. He's sixty-nine. What 
gives?' The media are particularly attuned to reports of such marriages in 
the Muslim world, perhaps part of the enduring Western fear and fascina- 
tion with the Muslimman's supposed predatory sexuality and the fate ofhis 
young victim. Similar objections appear regularly in liberal-leaning media 
in the Arab world as well, which gawk at announcements such as 'Shaykh 
Qaradawi marries a Moroccan woman thirty-seven years his junior.' 

Disapproval becomes moral outrage, however, in cases of child marriage 
(defined by UNICEF as the marriage of a person under eighteen). One 
need wait only a few weeks to find anger expressed online under banner 
stories such as 'British child brides: mosque leaders agree to marry girls 
as young as twelve... as long as parents don't tell anyone.' 43 

Sentiments about the appropriate ages for men and women to marry 
(read, engage in approved sexual activity) have fueled consuming contro- 
versyin recent decades. In great part, this is because these sentiments carry 
an instinctual moral gravity that suggests they are much more concrete 
and universally recognized than is actually the case. For many in Western, 
developed nations, it is inconceivable that the guttural revulsion felt at an 
adult man marrying a young girl would not be felt by people everywhere. 
Those who approve of such a match must thus be barbarians. 44 

The turpitude of marriage to underage girls has featured prominently 
in polemics over Islam and gender in Egypt and elsewhere in the Muslim 
world in recent decades. Headlines like 'Top Saudi cleric: OK for young 
girls to wed' appear commonly. 45 In reality, those working internation- 
ally to combat child marriage have concluded that its roots are primarily 
economic and unrelated to any specific religion. Most common in South 
Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, regardless of religion, child marriage gen- 
erally hinges on one of two opposing economic pressures: the premium 
on high birth rates in agricultural communities, or a desire to marry off 
daughters as soon as possible to minimize the number of mouths to feed 
in a household. 

Even so, Islam seems to present a particular problem. In Islamic 
discourse, child marriage and efforts to restrict it run up against the 


canonical power of scripture and the desire of many Muslims to protect the 
boundaries of the Shariah and religious authenticity against the percervted 
encroachment of Western development norms. 

When the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia was asked if girls under fifteen 
could marry, he replied that Islam did not prohibit it. In terms of Shariah 
evidence, the basis for his statement could not be stronger: an authenticated 
Hadith from the Sahih Bukhari and other canonical Hadith collections 
quotes the Prophet's wife Aisha reporting that he had consummated his 
marriage with her when she was nine years old. And the Prophet of God 
cannot sin. 4 * 

Questions of minimum marriage age for women and issues of consent 
in the Islamic legal tradition have centered primarily on a woman's physical 
maturity and sexual status, and the crucial legal moments involved were the 
marriage contract and the actual consummation. As in the case of Aisha, 
whose marriage contract was concluded two or three years before the 
consummation, these two events could be separated by a lengthy period. 
In all Sunni schools of law except the Hanafi, a female needs the permis- 
sion of her male guardian (usually her father) to marry, though this could 
be a pro forma requirement. In the Maliki school, for example, a 'mature 
and discriminating virgin' was considered capable of choosing her spouse, 
and if her male guardian objected without valid reason she could appeal 
to the court for permission. 47 

This was not a license for forced marriage. Well-known Hadiths 
explained that any woman who had reached puberty must give her con- 
sent for marriage, though if she was a virgin who remained silent the 
Prophet explained that 'her silence is her consent.' This applied to girls 
who had reached maturity, which occurred when they began menstruating 
or reached fifteen years old, whichever came first (Maliki scholars alone 
allowed that eighteen was the oldest possible age by which puberty occurs) . 
All four Sunni schools, however, permitted a father to contract a marriage 
for his underage virgin daughter, no matter how young she was, withouther 
consent, which had no weight due to her minority. 48 Hanafis alone allowed 
a girl in such a case to ask a judge to annul a marriage contract previously 
arranged by her guardian once she reached puberty. 

Consummation was a separate matter. The age of the female that pri- 
marily concerned pre-modern ulama was the age at which the marriage 
contract took place. They did not devote a great deal of attention to the 
minimum age for sex. In part this was due to the Prophet's well-known 


precedent with Aisha. Nine years old is a young age for sex by the stand- 
ards of any culture, and his precedent thus set a very low threshold for 
a minimum age for intercourse. More importantly, the medieval ulama 
considered the point at which a girl was fit for intercourse to be too varied 
to be firmly legislated for. It was most appropriate for the bride, groom 
and the bride's guardian to determine the appropriate age for intercourse 

The norm that the ulama did come to consensus on was only a general 
guideline: they prohibited sexual intercourse for girls 'not able to undergo 
it,' on the basis that otherwise sex could be physically harmful. If the 
groom and his wife or her guardian disagreed about her capacity for sex, 
a Shariah court judge would decide, perhaps after a female expert witness 
examined her. 49 This was also based on the Prophet's marriage to Aisha. 
The couple had concluded the marriage contract when Aisha was only 
six but had waited to consummate the marriage until she reached physi- 
cal maturity. In the case of the Hanbali tradition followed by the Mufti 
of Saudi Arabia, sex was allowed when the bride was 'at the age at which 
others like her have intercourse,' specifying nine as the norm for suitabil- 
ity for sex on the basis of Aisha's Hadith. A Scottish physician resident in 
Aleppo in the mid 1700s noted how families endeavored to marry their 
children off (i.e., complete the marriage contract) at a young age but that 
they would not consummate the marriage until the girl 'had come of age.' 
Historical evidence from nineteenth-century Ottoman Palestine suggests 
that husbands having sexual intercourse with wives before they reached 
puberty did sometimes occur. But it was rare, condemned socially and 
censured by Shariah court judges. Shariah courts in French Algeria in the 
1850s considered it equally despicable, although colonial officials seemed 
unable to grasp the crucial difference between contracting a marriage and 
consummating it. 50 

Although recent research has shown that medical reforms in mid- 
nineteenth-century Egypt had identified child marriage as a health con- 
cern, it was modern Western opprobrium that brought the problematic 
precedent of the Prophet's marriage with Aisha to the fore. 51 The Prophet's 
sexuality and married life had been a lurid magnet for criticism even 
during his own lifetime, and it has remained the most consistent theme 
in Christian/Western polemics against Islam ever since. His marriage to 
Aisha did feature in these polemics from the early Islamic period, but 
what exposed him as a 'sex fiend' (scortum), in the words of a seventeenth- 
century Italian priest, was not Aisha's age but the Prophet's supposed 


uncontrollable desire for her. He had seen her in a dream, it was said, and 
become physically infatuated with her (see Appendix I). 52 I 

Yet I have found no instance of anyone criticizing the Prophet's marriage 
due to Aisha's age or accusing him of pedophilia until the early twentieth 
century. Even in the nineteenth century, British, German and French 
orientalists mostly passed over the matter in silence. Others assumed a 
Montesquieu-like sense of climatic determinism. In the 1830s the British 
ethnographer and lexicographer E. W. Lane prefaced his observation that 
Egyptian women married as young as ten (only a few remained single by 
age sixteen) with the remark that they 'tend to arrive at puberty much 
earlier than the natives of colder climates.' The first condemnatory note 
comes in Mohammad and the Rise of 'Islam (1905) by the British orientalist 
David Margoliouth. He calls Muhammad's marriage to Aisha an 'ill-assorted 
union... for as such we must characterise the marriage of a man of fifty- 
three to a child of nine.' 53 

The lack of Christian and Western vituperation against Aisha's age prior 
to 1905 is not surprising. And Margoliouth's pioneering disapproval was 
very English. Even as late as the nineteenth century, societies in which 
the vast majority of the population worked the land in small agricultural 
communities ('peasant' societies) were generally characterized by marriage 
ages that we would consider extremely young. Whether in India, China 
or Eastern Europe, in the pre-industrial period (and in many areas, even 
today) marriage age for women tended to be in the mid-teens, immediately 
after puberty. Shah Wali Allah married at fourteen, and when a scholar in 
fifteenth-century Damascus raised eyebrows by becoming a father at eleven 
it was because folk at the time were impressed, not outraged. In some US 
states, such as Georgia, the legal age of consent for women was as low as 
ten well into the twentieth century. In all these areas, this was probably 
due to the need for as many hands as possible to work the fields, hence a 
premium on high birth rates, as well as a relatively short life expectancy 
and a need to start families early. 54 

Britain was a bizarre exception even in the medieval period. The 'Wife 
of Bath' in the Canterbury Tales may have married at the 'twelfyeer of age,' 
but Britain and, to a lesser extent, most of northwest Europe differed from 
the pre -modern pattern of early marriage. Marriage age tended to be later, 
in the mid-twenties. In England, available data suggest that this was the 
case as far back as the fourteenth century. 55 

Britain's unusual marriage pattern was reflected in its law. It is not 


surprising that English common law was the first to establish statutory 
rape laws and ages of consent for marriage in Europe. As early as the 
Statute of Westminster in 1275, sex with an underage girl (meaning under 
either twelve or fourteen, it is unclear which) regardless of consent was 
criminalized. In 1576 the age was reduced to ten. 

Law was an imperial export. The mission to rescue 'native' women 
from their backward cultures was a prominent theme in British portrayals 
of the empire's colonial activities. In the late 1800s and early 1900s Britain 
moved to bring marriage customs in India into line with her imperial 
values, and a series of laws introduced age restrictions for Hindu and 
Muslim girls marrying. 56 

Yet Egypt's experience with modernization and British rule was often 
counterintuitive when it came to gender. When the British occupied 
Egypt in 1882, the High Commissioner, Lord Cromer, was eager to trim 
the country's budget and recoup Egyptian debt. He defundedmany of the 
modernizing reforms instituted just decades earlier by the ruling dynasty of 
Mehmet Ali. Cromer, for example, withdrew support for training women 
doctors and midwives, a flagship of Egypt's indigenous, pre-colonial medi- 
cal reforms. This new class of state-trained midwives had actually started 
bringing the health concerns of child marriage to light. Yet Cromer pro- 
fessed himself shocked by Islam's apparently barbaric and unamendable 
treatment of women (ironically, he was a founding member of the Men's 
League for Opposing Women's Suffrage back in England). 57 

The first decades of the twentieth century brought tremendous change 
to Egypt: the population burgeoned, and family structures in rural areas fell 
apart as peasants flocked to the cities. With educational reforms, literacy 
rates improved dramatically. By the 1920s, exposure to Western norms and 
modernization efforts had changed how marriage and appropriate mar- 
riage ages were viewed within sections of Egyptian society, particularly 
the newly created urban middle class. Censuses in 1907 and 1917 showed 
that less than ten percent of Egyptian women were marrying before the 
age of twenty. 1923 proved a landmark year for reform. After attending 
a conference of the International Women's Alliance in Rome, longtime 
women's rights activist Huda Sharawi led the formation of the Egyptian 
Feminist Union. In the same year, the organization's lobbying efforts for 
a variety of women's rights issues helped convince Egypt's parliament to 
pass a law setting the minimum marriage age for women at sixteen (men 
at eighteen). 58 


Since the late 1800s reformist ulama like 'Abduh had been employing 
Islamic legal and scriptural arguments for advancing women's rightls, in 
particular for increasing female education and calling for laws restricting 
polygamy. Although the Qur'an permitted men to marry up to four women, 
it discouraged this if the husband could not treat each one fairly. Medieval 
jurists, however, did not conclude that this condition meant any active 
restriction on polygamy. 'Abduh disagreed. Citing the Qur'anic verse that 
tells men, 'You will not be able to be fair between women' (4:3, 129), he 
reasoned that this entailed an effective prohibition on polygamy except 
when circumstances like war or massive gender disparity required it. Like 
St. Augustine, 'Abduh argued along Islamic scriptural lines that polygamy 
had been allowed in the ancient Near East due to the conditions of the 
time but that it was not the Qur'an's ideal for marriage. The true model 
for Muslim marriage was the Prophet's twenty-four-year monogamous 
marriage to his beloved first wife and partner Khadija. S9 

It would be much harder to extricate Islamic reformist ideals from the 
tangle of Muhammad's marriage to Aisha. Yet by the 1950s there was clearly 
growing discomfort among upper-class Egyptians over Margoliouth's 'ill- 
assorted 3 marriage and what other Europeans were referring to as sexual 
deviance. The person who rose to challenge 'what the orientalists say 
about Aisha marrying when she was a child' was one of the most popular 
Egyptian authors of the twentieth century. 

Abbas Aqqad was an accomplished and prolific Arabic prose stylist, 
poet and a member of the Arabic Language Academy. Although modern- 
ist and cosmopolitan, he was also a lifelong anti-imperialist who keenly 
understood that reviving Egypt's confidence in its Islamic and Arab heritage 
was essential for achieving independence and parity with the West. His 
numerous books on early Islamic history sought to remind Egyptians of 
their religion's founding greatness and the creative genius of its early gen- 
erations. Works such as The Genius of 'Muhammad and The Genius o/Umar 
were consciously modeled on Carlyle's 'great man' view of history, efforts 
to bolster the assurance of Arabs and Muslims who wanted to believe in the 
legitimacy of their civilization but needed that proven in terms convincing 
to Europeans. Yet like Abduh, Rida and Khan, 'Aqqad's reimagination of 
Islam's original genius was not too far from the expectations of modernity. 
Revealingly, Sanhuri wrote him a letter remarking how his jurist's legal 
mind and the litterateur's books converged on a single enlightened path 
leading to the 'face of God, the face of truth.' 60 


'Aqqad exemplifies how history and, in this case, the scripture of 
Hadiths can be reread in consonance with compelling social forces. He 
was certainly no feminist, but his readable encomium on Aisha rightfully 
highlighted her role as a crucial transmitter of the Prophet's legacy, a 
respected early teacher of his religion and even a leading political actor 
in the violent upheavals that followed her husband s death. He demurs 
masterfully and tactically, however, on Aisha's marriage age. His modest 
hesitance evinces respect for the classical Islamic tradition of Hadith 
criticism while constructing an argument against its Consensus on the 
issue. Historical reports differ on Aisha's age, he explains, going on to 
argue that she was actually between thirteen and fifteen years old when 
her marriage was consummated.* Such disparities are normal, he reminds 
the reader, with a people who had no written records at the time and 
who could be vague about exactly when they were born. Drawing on an 
early work of Sunni history and Hadith collection by the ninth-century 
scholar Ibn Sa'd, Aqqad explains how Aisha had already been engaged to 
another man before her marriage to the Prophet. Since the normal age 
of engagement was no younger than nine, he claims, and since historical 
reports agree on the passage of a fewyears between the marriage contract 
and its consummation, Aisha must have been in her early teens when her 
married life began. 

'Aqqad cleverly skirts the authenticated Hadith found in SahihBukhari 
in which Aisha herself reports that she was nine at the time, addressing it 
only obliquely by suggesting that Aisha was fond of emphasizing her child- 
hood spent in the nascent days of Islam and how young she was during 
the faith's formative days. Aqqad thus allows his readers to reconcile their 
faith in the Prophet's complete rectitude and even in Islam's collective 
historical corpus with what many had come to accept as the 'natural' and 
ideal norms for marriage. 61 

More conservative Muslim scholars objected to this rereading of the 
Prophet's life. They sensed the epistemological turnover behind Aqqad's 
defense of Islam. Not only did it upturn the hierarchy of authority within 
the Sunni scriptural canon by ignoring a clear text contained in Bukhan's 
august Sahih, it also broke with the Shariah consensus on marriage age. No 
member of Egypt's religious establishment showed more displeasure with 
Aqqad than Ahmad Shakir. In the spring of 1944 he penned a number of 

* Several prominent Sunni ulama today, like Ali Gomaa and Taha Jabir Alwani, have 
concluded that Aisha was in her late teens based on arguments similar to 'Aqqad s. 


popular journal articles excoriating the famous wordsmith's book on the 
Prophet's most active wife. I 

At the heart of Shakir's criticism was the question of the proper locus 
of truth in Muslim life. He states and restates that Aisha's recollection of 
her own marriage age is the lynchpin of historical and scriptural truth 
on this issue. Her report was categorically authenticated by the great 
Hadith critics of the classical era and sealed by the consensus of the 
medieval jurists. 'Aqqad's insinuation that she exaggerated heryouth was 
thus tantamount to calling the Prophet's wife a liar. Against Aisha's own 
authenticated testimony, moreover, Aqqad brought nothing more than 
a flimsily cobbled-together argument, which Shakir contends rested on 
flawed premises. For example, there was no 'normal' engagement age for 
Arabs of the era. 

As in the case of women judges, Shakir feels that the specifics of the 
debate mask the true contention at hand. Aqqad had admitted that his 
argument about Aisha's marriage age was intended as a rebuttal against 
the moral disapproval of orientalists. But in revising the received Muslim 
position on Aisha's marriage age, Aqqad was implicitly admitting that 
Western norms and criticisms of Islam and the Prophet were valid. Muslims, 
Shakir believes, are supposed to derive their laws and sensibilities from the 
Islamic heritage, not from Europe. He minces no words. Aisha's marriage 
to the Prophet at the age of nine was historically correct and the basis for 
the Shariah ruling that marrying an underage woman was permissible. 
There were to be no apologies for this. 62 


Recourse to the scriptures of the Qur'an and Hadiths was not the only 
means to make normative claims in the Shariah tradition. The ancestors 
of Kevseri, Abduh and Shakir among the ulama of the great Ottoman 
metropolises of Istanbul, Damascus and Cairo in the late medieval period 
were truly, as the Hadith said, 'the inheritors of the prophets.' The book of 
God and the precedent of Muhammad were the wellsprings of their author- 
ity and tradition, but the scholars themselves were the living vessels from 
which interpretations of Islam's message issued. Masters of the illuminated 
page and joined through apprenticeship to chains of sages extending back 


to the Lawgiver, they understood themselves to be the medium of interface 
between God's law and the temporal realities of society. 

The interpretive authority of the scholars eclipsed the evident mean- 
ing of Hadiths or Qur'anic verses. Ulama such as Nawawi and Khattabi 
regularly interpreted individual passages in accordance with the legal 
or theological principles that had come to be established within Sunni 
thought. Moreover, by the twelfth century, the Sunni ulama had come 
to see the diversity of opinion within and between their schools of law 
as not only an acceptable reality but also a useful one. Late medieval 
scholars in many regions of the Abode of Islam had treated this vast 
pool of opinion as a source to be drawn on, using procedural maxims 
such as 'Hardship requires easing' to select the ruling they felt best 
promoted justice for those who came to their Shariah courts (even in 
regions where one school reigned, like the Maliki-dominated Maghreb, 
experienced judges chose from within the school's varied opinions on 
a case). 

For modernist ulama like Abduh and his disciples, the great toolbox 
of the classical tradition and the legitimizing power of the legal maxims 
offered an ideal means for reform. They allowed the ulama to reshape 
the Shariah according to new needs while remaining within its authentic 
vocabulary. The concept of Maslaha (public interest and welfare) had 
played a minor role in medieval Shariah lawmaking; in the absence of other 
evidence, it involved a scholar formulating a rule according 'to what reason 
deems acceptable as long as no explicit text from the Qur'an or Hadiths 
contradicts it.' Mafiki scholars thus deemed marriage to be required for 
individuals with powerful libidos not because of some scriptural basis or 
even analogy, but based on promoting society's best interests. Abduh, 
however, made Maslaha a centerpiece of his legal thought. From his early 
days as a reformist scholar writing for Egypt's government journal in the 
1880s, Abduh had employed the protection of the best interests of the 
Muslim family to argue that it was permissible Islamically to restrict men's 
marriage rights and prohibit polygamy. 

Also crucial to Abduh's argument against multiple wives was the 
procedural maxim 'The rare case has no value in ruling.' In other words, 
a jurist must derive Shariah laws based on the plurality of occurrences, 
not rare exceptions. The Qur'an, Abduh argued, allowed a man to marry 
more than one woman provided that he could treat them all equally and 
justly. The men of Egyptwere clearly no longer able to meet this condition, 


he observed, and 'even if one in a million did,' this could not be a basis 
for the law. 63 I 

Kevseri was 'Abduh's mirror image on the debate over polygamy, and 
he employed the same ulama toolkit to opposite ends. He rejected plac- 
ing so much faith in notions of utility and interest outside the scriptural 
sources of the Shariah. He furiously denounced those scholars who 'had 
drunk from the brackish waters of the West' and now calle d for res tricting 
a Muslim man's right to marry up to four wives. It was the ulama's duty 
to draw on the rich assortment of the Shariahs rules to best meet the 
needs of the day, but this meant a strict reliance on the venerable treasur- 
ies of the past. Maslaha could only be resorted to in the total absence of 
scriptural evidence on a matter, not to innovate new notions of propriety 
when God's law was clear. As for marriage, God knew what was in the best 
interests of His creation when he ordered them to 'marry what is goodly 
foryou of women, two or three or four' (4:3) and when He guided count- 
less generations of Muslim scholars to consensus on the permissibility 
of polygamy. Our flawed reason, Kevseri argued, cannot determine our 
true best interests in this world and the next, 'since reason often deems a 
harmful thing to be in our interest, unlike the holy law.' 

One of Abduh's disciples, Mustafa Maraghi, was appointed the Rector 
of Al-Azhar and began pursuing legal reforms to equalize divorce rights. 
He did so by attempting to restrict men's Shariah right to divorce their 
wives unilaterally and suggested that the power to declare divorces be 
placed solely in the hands of family court judges. Kevseri again attacked. 
Maraghi argued in a public lecture that Egyptian men had proven them- 
selves incompetent in their misuse of their ability to divorce their wives 
without oversight, to the point that a whole genre of jokes revolved around 
their idiocy. Kevseri turned the same maxim used by Abduh against the 
modernist's acolyte. Hyperbolic claims about some idiocy endemic among 
the population, made on the basis of jokes, was not enough to affect 
Muslims' understanding of God's law. For 'general legislation is not built 
on anomalous, rare cases.' 64 

Yet the true nature of Islam and the machinations of the West, both 
so vividly conceived in Kevseri's mind, were not so starkly separable to 
other ulama. The avuncular and beloved Abd al-HalimMahmud (d. 1978) 
demonstrates how intermingled 'Islam,' the 'West,' authentic and inau- 
thentic could become. A graduate of the Al-Azhar madrasa and a student of 
Maraghi, he also completed a doctorate in France before returning to rise 


through the ranks of Egypt's scholarly religious establishment. Eventually 
he was appointed to its supreme post, held earlier by his teacher, that of 
Rector of Al-Azhar. 

Despite a long career working for the Egyptian state, Mahmud consist- 
ently lobbied for the removal of its civil law code and a return to Shariah 
law. Cutting off the hand of a thief - subject to rigorous Shariah procedure 
and conditions, of course - was a punishment ordained by God. He claimed 
that Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, had brought law and order to 
his realm by implementing such laws. Theft had virtually vanished in the 
kingdom, Mahmud claimed, though the gruesome punishment had been 
carried out no more than seven times. 

Yet in his capacity as a senior Islamic jurist for the Egyptian government, 
Mahmud had issued a Shariah opinion supporting the minimum marriage 
age of sixteen for girls. He acknowledged that the Shariah tradition had 
never specified an exact age, requiring only that the bride be physically 
developed enough to engage in intercourse. This did not mean, however, 
that administrative laws could not be put in place to encourage or protect 
family integrity. In light of the responsibilities that a wife must bear both 
in her marriage and as the mother of children, Mahmud felt that only a 
mature person should marry. 'Developed societies,' he concluded, 'have 
set the age of marriage at sixteen, and this is appropriate.* Mahmud was a 
diehard advocate of a return to Shariah law, but he nonetheless affirmed 
the ulama's - and the state's - right to modify the law even if it restricted 
a choice made by the Prophet of God. 65 If rule by Shariah law was so 
essential in the ulama's eyes, how could Mahmud's decision be explained? 

Since the days of the Umayyad dynasty in the 700s, the ulama had cul- 
tivated and endured a complicated relationship with Muslim rulers. By the 
mid-800s, a clear arrangement had been reached. Sunni scholars would 
remain silent on politics and uphold the legitimacy of any ruler who could 
advance even an iota of Muslim identity, and in return the rulers would 
cede the realm of law and social norms to the ulama, even providing them 
with police power to enforce Shariah court rulings. 

By the twelfth century, Sunni legal scholars were also increasingly 
appreciative of a realm of law reserved for the ruler outside the normal 
boundaries of the Shariah. In fact, the ulama of the Iraqi city of Mosul 
in the mid-1 100s had begged their new sultan, the mentor of Saladin, to 
implement harsh punishments to stem the wave of thefts that had over- 
taken the city. They could find no effective deterrent in the practices of 


the Shariah courts because the evidentiary standards needed to amputate 
a thief's hand were so strict that this punishment was unrealistic, aid the 
discretionary punishment (ta'zir) that Shariah judges would usually mete 
out instead were limited by Hadiths to only ten lashes. 66 Even during the 
early caliphate, the caliphs had maintained the rights to hold their own 
ad hoc courts of law, called Mazalim (injustices) courts, to hear subjects 5 
complaints of wrongs they had suffered. But such extra-Shariah justice 
was impromptu, based on the ruler's fiat, and its legitimacy untheorized. 
In any case, Mazalim courts were normally either staffed by ulama or held 
with ulama in attendance as advisors. There was no concept of law that 
held any widely recognized legitimacy outside God's Shariah. Even when 
a ruler intervened to deal severely with crimes like a heinous murder or 
threats to public security, many ulama saw this as falling under the Hudud 
crime of banditry (hiraba), which allowed the ruler much greater leeway 
in determining punishment. 

With the Mongol conquests in the Middle East, the new law of a new 
god arrived. This was the Mongol law of Genghis Khan, whom the universal 
sky god of the steppes had favored with the mandate for universal empire. 
From the thirteenth century onward, from the Turko-Mongol sultanates 
of Delhi to Kevseri's Ottoman Turks themselves (who all bore the regnal 
title 'khan or 'lord' in Turko-Mongol tongues), there was now a type of 
dynastic law, rooted in the traditions and edicts of the sultans, that existed 
alongside the Shariah. These rulers did not share the ulama's vision of an 
all-encompassing Shariah. Now it had its own delimited sphere. When 
the fourteenth-century traveler Ibn Battuta was making his way across the 
mountains of Central Asia from the Muslim Khanate of the Golden Horde 
to the Delhi Sultanate, he saw how Muslim Turkic warlords adjudicated 
complaints in their courts of law. The sultan sat with two bodies of judges 
seated before him. Cases they determined to fall within the Shariah were 
decided by the ulama; all others went to the second group, a committee of 
Turkic elders. Ibn Battuta encountered a similar phenomenon in the court 
of the significantly fatter sultan of Mogadishu, then a huge and prosperous 
commercial hub. Cases were shared out between the city's chief Shariah 
judge and the sultan's primary viziers, the former taking only those cases 
that the viziers felt fell under Shariah law. 67 Sometimes the law courts held 
by sultans and their top officials were misused. In the Cairo of Ibn Battuta's 
time, the chamberlains of the Mamluk sultans were notorious for conven- 
ing a court and dragging rich merchants in to extort money from them. 68 


Although in more sophisticated realms such as the Ottoman Empire this 
new dynastic law generally dealt with sensitive areas like sedition or cru- 
cial ones like tax collection and military administration, it also influenced 
Shariah adjudication. The Ottoman sultans justified their involvement 
in Shariah matters by phrasing their power prerogative within a Shariah 
framework. God had, after all, commanded Muslims to 'obey God and 
obey His Messenger and those in authority among you' (4:59). They thus 
considered it their right as rulers under God's law to select which of the 
ulama's opinions to make the law of the land or even to create laws where 
none existed. The looming presence of dynastic law in turn led the ulama 
to grant the Ottoman sultans more discretionary leeway in legislating for 
their Muslim subjects. Sometimes this was procedural.. In the 1550s, for 
example, the Ottoman sultan issued an edict placing a statute of limitations 
of fifteen years on all claims brought before Shariah courts. 69 It could also 
be substantive. When coffee became popular in the Ottoman realm in 
the sixteenth century, the ulama were initially split over its permissibility 
(was it licit, or an intoxicant and a magnet for vice?). While a consensus 
emerged allowing coffee, the great eighteenth-century Damascus jurist 
Abd al-Ghani Nabulusi insisted that it was well within the ruler's right to 
outlaw substances like coffee or tobacco if he deemed it pursuant to God's 
law and in the best interests of his people (a sultan's ban on tobacco in 
Istanbul in the 1630s proved short-lived, however). 70 

The Ottomans and their Turkic cousins, the Mughal dynasty in India, 
made the most of this executive authority. Both ordered compilations of 
Shariah law codes aimed at reducing the unwieldy diversity of even one 
school of law, with its numerous parallel stances and mainstay reference 
books, to a manageable, regular set of rules. Committees of scholars in 
the centralized religious establishments of these two empires drafted law 
codes to routinize the official Hanafi school. As a result, this drew the ulama 
further under the aegis of the state. Though rewarded with secure employ- 
ment in expanded judicial bureaucracies, the ulama would eventually find 
that their power to channel the Shariah as scholar-judges had been lost to 
simplified legal codes that a judge would apply by rote in court. 

Shah Wall Allah's father participated in compiling the Mughal dynasty s 
code, the Fatawa Alamgiri, along with almost fifty other ulama. They spent 
eight years carrying out the task commissioned by the Mughal emperor 
Aurangzebin 1667: to compile one book identifying the standard rulings 
of the Hanafi school on Appoints of law. The emperor hoped to create a 


new, solitary reference for empire-wide application. It would overcome 
the challenge that, aside from any one madhhab almost always listing sev- 
eral positions on a single point of law, there was no one book that could 
serve as an exhaustive and comprehensive source for all of that madhhab's 
rulings. Even a large compendium of law might omit a legal issue that a 
smaller book dealt with at length. 71 

But by then dusk had fallen for the Mughals, and the FatawaAlamgiri 
met with only limited success in their moribund state. A much more 
lasting legacy came from the Ottomans, who compiled several law codes 
between 1870 and 1917 regulating areas from trade to marriage law. A 
world removed from the traditionalist Mughal compilation, these were 
modeled in form after European codes but were based in content on Shar iah 
rulings. Although the first law code, which addressed mostly commercial 
issues, was drawn almost solely from the Hanafi school of law, the 1917 
Ottoman Family Law Code drew on more eclectic sources in pursuit of 
its reformist agenda. It set the lowest age for a girl to even engage in a 
marriage contract (let alone consummate it) at nine years old - a level of 
restriction unknown in any Islamic school of law. 

Following a course similar to its nominal Ottoman suzerain, Egypt's 
legal reforms of the late nineteenth century eventually left the Shariah in 
place only in family law, including areas like marriage and divorce, but 
codified it according to what were deemed the official positions of the 
Hanafi school. The Egyptian parliament's 1923 decision to set the mini- 
mum marriage age for women at sixteen was justified Islamically through 
recourse to the right of the ruler's discretion in Shariah matters acknowl- 
edged by ulama like Nabulusi. Egypt's legislature was not denying God's 
sole right to dictate law or morals, supporters of the marriage law argued. 
Marriage contracts drawn up privately according to Shariah law were still 
valid in the eyes of God. The state was merely exercising its Shariah right 
in 'restricting judicial procedure' in its Shariah courts by only allowing 
women aged sixteen or older to register their marriages and only allow- 
ing complaints regarding marriages to be heard in court if they had been 
properly registered. Presumably only a fool would allow his daughter to 
marry without the documented protection of the law. 72 

In the wake of the Ottoman defeat in the First World War, the newly 
created state of Syria (under French control) took Egypt's code a step fur- 
ther. Formerly part of the Ottoman domain, Syria inherited the Ottoman 
Family Law Code and its minimum age of marriage (nine). Then in 1953, 


the Syrian government introduced a reformed personal status law that 
overhauled rules on marriage. Women could not marry until they were 
eighteen, though the judge could grant permission for those as young as 
thirteen if he felt the circumstances were appropriate. 

Although this new law code was a clear effort at Europeanized reform, 
it offered Shariah arguments for its provisions. The justification for intro- 
ducing a later marriage age was a tour de force in utilizing the tremendous 
depth and breadth of the Shariah heritage. The Syrian code cites the opinion 
of a little-known contemporary of Abu Hanifa in Kufa, Ibn Shubruma, 
who did not allow any girl to enter into a marriage contract (and thus also 
not to consummate her marriage) until she reached maturity. The new 
Syrian law code introduced even more dramatic and unprecedented age 
restrictions. It gave the judge the right to forestall any marriage in which 
the couple was 'not suited to each other in regard to their ages.' Unlike 
the new minimum marriage age, however, the code gave no evidence 
for this law from the heritage of the Shariah. It merely referred to the 
vague 'lack of stability in married life' and 'moral corruption' that large 
age gaps cause. 73 

Most Egyptian and Syrian ulama, even very conservative ones, approved 
of the move to codify Shariah law in the late nineteenth and early twen- 
tieth centuries. Many even accepted secular codes (i.e., those not based 
directly in form and content on the classical madhhabs) as long as they 
either drew on significantly or did not contradict the Shariah. At least the 
Shariah would remain relevant. Many ulama also assumed (wrongly, m 
the end) that they would find continued employment as the main pool of 
judges and would be in charge of future legal reforms. 

Others were less optimistic, and ulama reactions to laws restricting 
marriage age differed greatly The memoirs of one of the ulama who 
worked in Syria's family law courts in the mid-twentieth century depicts 
the troubled process of coming to terms with a modern, Western-shaped 
lawwhile maintaining a commitmentto the canon of the Qur'an and Sunna. 
It was acceptable, wrote Ali Tantawi, for the ruler or state to introduce 
administrative laws and restrictions in the best interests of the people. 
This was allowed under the Shariah not only within the original, narrow 
window of public interest (Maslaha) but also because God orders Muslims 
to obey 'those in authority among you.' He was thus content to preside 
over marriage after marriage in his Damascus courtroom while observing 
the age requirement of eighteen. 


What Tantawi could not abide was to endow this law with any moral 
or religious weight. At best it was a sensible policy for promoting health 
and welfare; at worst, bureaucratic red tape to be grudgingly endured. 
Underage couples who married with a private Shariah contract undocu- 
mented by the state were still married in the eyes of God. Tantawi also 
frequently granted exceptions for brides as young as thirteen, as the new 
law allowed. He recalled how often he had stood next to such girls and 
found that they were taller than he was and were fully physically mature. 
'So it's not simply a matter of age,' he wrote, 'as those who hastily and 
mistakenly speak without knowledge or understanding about the marriage 
of the Messenger of God, may God's peace and blessings be upon him, 
the best of mankind, the fairest and most just, about his marriage to Aisha 
when she was nine years old.' Had those outraged by this act actually seen 
Aisha? She could well have been like the girls who came before him in 
court, especially, he wrote, since girls in hot climes can become mature 
as young as nine or ten. 74 

It was not the passage of laws or restrictions that might benefit Muslims 
that Tantawi considered illegitimate. It was declaring the Prophet's deeds 
depraved or questioning the legitimacy of his precedent in God's eyes 
that the judge could not accept. In 1941, over a decade before the new 
age restrictions were introduced, Tantawi had angrily lectured both the 
outgoing and incoming Syrian ministers of justice about the profanity of 
the Ottoman Family Law Code (then still in effect). 'It took a position 
not taken by any scholar ever before,' he thundered, 'considering the 
marriage contract of a girl under nine to be invalid! This contradicted the 
established Sunna of the Prophet, who had contracted his marriage with 
Aisha when she was six or seven. "Was his marriage to her invalid?!' he 
ended in a roar of disbelief. 75 

As a young student, Tantawi had met Kevseri. He would recall later, 
'After I met him, I followed after no one else.' An Egyptian Shariah scholar 
who had also pored through Kevseri's writings and finally caught up to 
him and greeted him meekly on a Cairo street later went on to head the 
study of Shariah at Cairo's Faculty of Law, write over a dozen books and 
serve on Al-Azhar's fatwa committee. Hulking and jovial, Muhammad 
Abu Zahra was adored by his students and widely respected in Egypt. In 
1958, freshly retired from heading the faculty, Abu Zahra found himself 
confronted with Egypt's conflicted marriage norms while sitting to write 
his column for a popular Al-Azhar journal. 


A member of the public had written a spirited objection to marriages 
with 'inappropriate' age differences and suggesting that Egypt pass a 
law prohibiting them, as Syria had. Abu Zahra replied as delicately as he 
could, explaining that the Islamic legal tradition places no restriction on 
marriage due to age difference. Answering a question that clearly came 
from a questioner more comfortable with secular state law than with the 
Shariah, he argued that one cannot restrict people's freedom to contract 
marriages without some clear proof that some harm is being caused. If the 
state were to ban marriages with large age gaps, people would no doubt 
continue to engage in them according to religious law (as Tantawi knew) 
but without registering them with the state. The result - undocumented 
marriages and spouses with no basis to claim their rights before a state 
court - would be a clear social harm. The Syrian law, he explained, was 
not only harmful but also absurd. If a young woman finds herself in need 
of an older man, for whatever reason, and an older man finds himself in 
some need of a younger woman, what is the harm in them marrying? 
Pious judges in Syria had not even acted on this novel law. When a judge 
in Damascus tried to stop such a marriage, it caused a public outcry and 
a campaign to repeal the law. 

To hammer home his argument, Abu Zahra finally refers to the Shariah 
tradition itself. Prohibiting age gaps would be an 'unprecedented, heretical 
innovation' in Islamic law, since no ulama had ever done so and since the 
Prophet and his Companions had freely engaged in such marriages. The 
Prophet had married his daughter Fatima to Ah' instead of other suitors 
in part because the couple were of similar age. But this was a matter of 
choice, not a legal restriction. 76 Amid all the controversy over Aisha, it was 
often forgotten that Muhammad's first wife was fifteen years his senior. 


Kevseri's Ottoman world had perished in an agony of war, famine and 
social chaos that engulfed the remnants of the Empire. Between 1912 and 
1923, war in the Balkans, the First World War and war with Greece left one- 
fifth of the population of Anatolia dead. 77 Ataturk and his comrades built 
the state of Turkey from the wasteland of Ottoman Anatolia and cleared 
the slate of Islam completely and brutally. In its place they engineered a 


secular, westernized nation state whose diverse citizenry would now be 
Turks first and foremost and who would be forced to accept a modern 
national destiny. By 1926 the caliphate, Shariah law courts, Sufi brother- 
hoods, even the Arabic call to prayer, had all been abolished. Students in 
the new Turkish Republic attended universities where headscarves were 
taboo or banned outright, and the country's elites allowed no place for 
religion in public (for many, even private) life. 

Life and worldviews in the smaller cities and the Anatolian heartland, 
however, were more inert than in Istanbul and the new Turkish capital of 
Ankara. At rallies for short-lived Islamist parties in the 1990s and at times 
of particularly heightened sensitivity, such as Israel's capture of Jerusalem 
in 1967, crowds have called for a return to Shariah law. But such extreme 
calls for a return to the past have proven rare and politically dangerous 
(advocating for the Shariah is illegal in Turkey). 78 As more conservative 
and religious segments of the population regain ground from dogmatic 
secularists, Islamist political parties have exerted more influence. Far from 
calling for Shariah law, though, since the late 1990s Turkey's Islamist par- 
ties have lobbied only for reforms granting practicing Muslims parity in 
Turkish society. Under the rule of the popularly elected, and re-elected, 
AK party, since 2009 the lecture halls of Turkish universities bob with 
stylishly veiled heads often more eager to learn than their male classmates. 
The largest Islamic movement in the country, following the preacher 
Fethullah Gulen, boasts tightly organized branches not only throughout 
Turkey but also around the world devoted to interfaith dialogue, schooling 
and cultivating non-threatening Islamic piety. In Istanbul's Fatih Mosque 
small and hesitant study circles meet after the dawn prayer to hear from 
a few surviving links to an Ottoman Islamic past that seems newly within 
reach of memory. 

How do you retain faith in transcendent scripture and its command- 
ments when many in the world declare them barbaric relics? When the 
disapproving gazes and piques of contempt issue from colonial masters or 
an overbearing West, it is easy to understand why many Muslims cling to the 
canons of tradition and an idealized past more strongly than ever, turning 
vindictively on others who let them go. How do you read the Qur'an and 
Hadiths 'authentically' when the foreign-made backdrops enveloping your 
scriptural world become as real as the scripture itself? In centuries past 
no one denied that sometimes the month of Ramadan 'falls short,' or that 
the Abode of Islam must expand so that 'the word of God is supreme.' But 


now what to some is as self-evident as the evils of holy war or pedophilia 
seems to others like foreign hypocrisy or capricious imposition. 

For modernizers like Abduh, Aqqad and Sanhuri, the new world of 
the modern West was the mold into which Muslims' understanding of 
their religion had to be fit, and they repurposed the tools of the classical 
Shariah tradition to do this while remaining within the canonical fold. For 
conservatives like Kevseri, Qutb and Shakir, the West and its superior, 
tightly tailored and ordered power were at best baseless illusions tempting 
Muslims away from God and His Prophet. At worst, for Bin Laden, they 
were infernal foes to be bloodied in a battle recasting the primal defense of 
Islam. For all these men, compromising either the principles or the details 
of God's law in the face of the enemy was sure folly. 

Those in between the conservatives and the modernists were pulled 
between the two poles of religious truth and worldly reality. Muhammad 
Ghazali was committed to defending Islam and Muslim identity, but 
modern realities convinced him that Islam was not properly understood, 
and he reread Islam's scriptures accordingly and courageously. But which 
master did he serve, scripture or the seductive pressures of the present? 
Could both be heeded faithfully, or was one the true face and the other 
the mask placed over it? 

Some conservative ulama seem to have found a sort of peace amid 
the epistemological chaos. The secret of their compromise with modern 
realities lies in returning to the political quietism of medieval Sunni Islam 
and ceding even to a modern secular state the legal rights of the Muslim 
ruler. It was not Western pressure or the pull of a contemporary lifestyle 
that led to the Jama' a Islamiyyas recantation of violence. Its leadership had 
spent decades in grueling prison conditions without regretting their deeds 
or pleading for release. Only when their studies led them to understand 
how they had misunderstood the classical Shariah relationship between 
individuals in a Muslim society and between the state and its subjects did 
they seek to redress their errors. Mahmud and Tantawi, two state -employed 
ulama in modernizing Muslim countries, never questioned the value of 
the pre-modern Shariah tradition. But part of its heritage was the legal 
prerogatives of the ruler, and as long as he did not contradict the core rul- 
ings of the Shariah, they accepted the modern legal restrictions imposed 
by a secularized state. 

Ironically, with all the weight and meaning that a canonical commu- 
nity invests in its scriptures, it is the interpreters who always matter the 


most. Whether by reading scripture to accord with itself internally or with 
extratextual truths, the ulama are the indispensable medium between God's 
revelation and the shifting needs of its earthly believers. They adjust the 
interpretive heritage built on the Qur'an and Hadiths against the rough 
terrain of the present day until a fit is found. 

But what is the source of their guidance? What is the truth by which 
morals and law must conform? Starting with 'Abduh, between 1900 
and 2002 the successive Grand Muftis of Egypt have declared collecting 
interest on bank deposits and loans permissible, prohibited, permissible, 
prohibited and then permissible again. 79 A justice on the United States 
Supreme Court, ruling on whether the court should overturn its own 
controversial ruling on that most divisive of American issues, abortion, 
wrote of the 'terrible price' that this canonical body would pay if the public 
lost confidence in it and saw it as just another reed blowing in the politi- 
cal winds of the day. 80 How much greater a price would the ulama pay as 
representatives of a religion? 

Sitting in the Fatih Mosque in the lesson given by Kevseri's last surviv- 
ing student, I listen to him explain the meaning of Hadiths. They are not 
controversial ones. I wonder how he would interpret Hadiths on jihad 
or Aisha's marriage age. The warmth of the Turkish students around me 
staves off, just enough, Istanbul's predawn chill. They sit as their teacher 
reacquaints them with Islam's scriptures, unsure of what they will mean. 
It is so hard to know whence truth comes in a fractured age. What does 
one cling to and what does one tear up in a world that does not endure? 


Muslim Martin Luthers and the 
Paradox of Tradition 


It is a quirk of history that, while Christianity has had only one Martin 
Luther, Islam has had at least six in the last twenty years. 1 So far none 
has stuck with the tenacity of the great Saxon monk. Still, hope lives on 
in the press that some Muslim scholar or intellectual will emerge, break 
the chains of tradition and free Muslims from the Shariah and the paro- 
chial dictates of the ulama. Regular readers need wait only a few months 
for The Economist to raise the prospect of another Luther or Luther-like 
force on the horizon. Heralding the impact of online sources explicating 
Islam to Muslim populations, the magazine wrote recently: 'For the first 
time, lay people can easily separate religious commands from tradition 
by looking at holy texts and scholarship rather than relying on their local 
preachers.' A Sudanese Muslim blogger pre-canonized by the publication 
'even thinks that digital media will be to Islam what the printing press was 
to Christianity - and ultimately lead to a Reformation.' 'We're still in the 
early stages,' explains the blogger, 'but we're going to see many eclectic 
versions of Islam.' 2 

The original Reformation did indeed usher many new and eclectic 
forms of Christianity onto the European stage. Martin Luther had called 
Christians to penetrate the decadent 'Tradition' of the Church's teach- 
ings, which obscured the Bible's pages, and return to the text of 'scripture 
alone.' It was solely scripture that conveyed Christ's message, which could 


be grasped by any good Christian who read the Bible when illuminated 
by the Holy Spirit. For a remarkably spirited sect of Anabaptist zealots} 
who occupied the city of Minister in 1534 and declared a short-lived 
theocracy, scripture meant establishing God's law, taking multiple wives, 
executing anyone who even questioned polygamy and awaiting eagerly 
the return of Christ. 3 The reforms of the scholarly Socinian movement 
were just as drastic, if much less dramatic. It abandoned the divine nature 
of Jesus and the Trinity altogether. Holding that one should believe only 
what was explicitly contained in the text of the Bible, the Socinians found 
insufficient basis for both tenets (in time, the Socinians morphed into the 
modern Unitarian movement). 4 At the opposite end of the Protestants' 
magisterial spectrum, a Quaker reformer concluded that the Bible was 
unimportant. The light and inspirational guidance of the Holy Spirit could 
never be confined to its narrowpages, which were anyway 'corrupted, viti- 
ated, altered and adulterated.' No longer subject to the cultic veneration of 
the Bible, early Quakers helped pioneer the uncovering of the historical 
limitations of its text. 5 

Luther's Church opponents had warned of the chaos that results from 
tearing down interpretive hierarchies. If, as Luther argued, for fourteen 
centuries the Church and the papacy had erred so glaringly in their inter- 
pretation of Jesus' message, how could anyone be sure that Luther was 
not erring as well? (Thomas More observed with sardonic ebullience that 
everythingLutherbelieved happened to be in the scriptures, while every- 
thing his opponents claimed was not). 6 How could anyone know whose 
inspired reading of the Bible was correct? As if the guiding light of the Holy 
Spirit could win a debate or serve as evidence, they objected, £ as if scripture 
contains no equivocal or analogous passages.' 7 As Johannes Tetzel, one of 
Luther's earliest opponents, wrote, the people 'will never now believe the 
preachers and the doctors. Everyone will interpret Scripture as takes his 
fancy. And all sacred Christendom must come into great spiritual danger 
when each individual believes what pleases him most.' 8 The Traditio, that 
accumulated body of biblical interpretation and teachings articulated over 
centuries by the Church, was just as much a brake on Christians' excesses 
as it might be a barrier to their faith. 

Tradition is the scholarly structure built on scripture through inter- 
pretation, both systematizing its teachings and controlling its authority, 
deciding its meaning and making it plain while limiting those who can 
access scripture directly. Tradition is constructed of parchment, countless 


fascicules and seas of ink. It is built by generations of devout scholars, 
who shape it to fit or fight the world of their day, their learned wraiths 
incorporated into its edifice. 

Luther's Catholic opponents were not the first to offer such warnings. 
Medieval rabbis had long before concluded that sincerity, inspiration and 
zeal were no guarantors of right guidance. Explaining the grave error of 
the Karaite Jews, a Babylonian sect who had called for the rejection of 
the Oral Torah tradition by which rabbis explained the written books of 
Moses, the Andalusian rabbi Judah HaLevi noted that sincerity of inten- 
tion is useless. 'For that which appears plain in the Torah is yet obscure, 
and much more so are the obscure passages.' 9 

And yet tradition is rarely a match for the charisma of scripture. Even 
centuries after the warnings of figures as distinguished as Thomas More and 
many bloody wars of religion, Luther's call still rings with understandable 
allure. What believer does not want to return to the root of faith, to read 
revelation from the pages of prophets and stand in that place where the 
divine voice first pierced the fog of our earthly world? Who would want to 
have their contact with the divine mediated by clergy, voluminous books 
or the encrusted build-up of centuries of convention? 

Such appeal has always masked great danger. It is difficult to know 
whether to heed the pure tone of the revealed voice, since it has often 
proved to be the sirens' call. Whenever the spirit of God has appeared in the 
world, or the books of God have been opened by believers, the custodians 
of religion have found both voice and letter dangerous and hard to control. 

Concerning the written word, its hazards were known as far back 
as Plato. Writing may seem a 'sure receipt for memory and wisdom, 
warned the Athenian, but it is only a 'shadow' of real knowledge. Written 
knowledge is passive before the reader and unable to defend itself against 
misunderstanding. People read into books only what they already believe, 
and books cannot correct them. Only living teachers can. For the disciple 
seeking knowledge, it is the master who passes on true, sound wisdom, 
not the book. 10 Left to their own devices, the uninitiated may choose their 
texts poorly. When dealing with claims of prophetic revelation, only the 
master knows the difference between the written words of God and the 
forgeries of Satan. 

Of course, democrats do not feel anxiety over the dangers of the written 
word. Its perils only concern those who believe strongly that knowledge 
and wisdom are matters of correct understanding. They must be preserved 


against misreading and misuse. This is the anxiety of a clerical elite or an 
interpretive guardian class, who worry that those who stumble unassisted 
onto written tomes cannot grasp what truly lies within, that they cannot 
see what they are supposed to see. More cynically, they might not see 
what they have to see for words inscribed ages earlier to remain true in 
the demanding light of changing times. The Jews of antiquity clung to the 
revealed wisdom in the five books of the Torah, but the Pharisees of first- 
century Palestine believed that the laws of Moses could only be understood 
properly when explained by the Pharisees' living teachings. How else 
could Jews know that the books, which make no explicit mention of the 
rewards of the Afterlife, did in fact contain encoded within their pages 
that germane and appealing teaching of hope for a blissful life after death? 

Books are meant to linger. The voice is not. Yet too often prophecy 
overstays its welcome and dies hard. The guardian class of living teachers 
who inherit the messages of the prophets ofyesteryear may find themselves 
challenged by upstarts claiming their own stirrings and divine inspiration. 
The rabbis of first-century Palestine found the worship of the God of 
Abraham redefined by an exceptional young rabbi who preached love of 
God before all else, the coming Kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit until 
his mission was brought to an abrupt end. The teachings passed on from 
those who heard the sermons of Jesus cited the same Jewish scriptures as 
the Pharisees. Instead of reading them through the Oral Torah, however, 
the Christians read the Old Testament scriptures through the focused 
lens of God sending His only son to suffer and die to redeem humankind's 
sins. The living teachings of early Christians claimed to unlock the true 
meanings of Isaiah's prophecy that A virgin shall conceive and bear a 
son' (Isaiah 7:14) and the Psalmist's song of the tormentors who would 
cast lots for the clothing, pierce the hands and feet of one who would 'lie 
down, sleep and rise up again...' (Psalms 22:16-18; 3:5)." As Paul and 
the Apostles preached the newly revealed meaning of the Old Testament, 
Christians too understood how essential the living words of teachers were 
for protecting scripture from misreading. In his The Sayings of the Lord 
Explained, the early Church Father Papias recorded Christ's teachings 
from the mouths of those elders who had met the Apostles themselves. 
'I did not imagine that things out of books would help me as much as the 
utterances of a living and abiding voice,' he wrote. 12 

Dueling over the true understanding of the Old Testament scriptures, 
both Jews and Christians realized that their readings had to be cemented 


in written form if they were to triumph or even survive. 13 As the second 
century drew to a close, the rabbi Judah the Patriarch and others set down 
the oral explanation of the Torah in the Mishna, while Mark, Luke, Papias 
and a myriad other followers of Christ confined to written pages their 
manifold and varied versions of his life and teachings. 

But divine inspiration did not cease, and Church Fathers like Papias 
heard of wandering prophets who drew crowds from Europe to Asia 
Minor, claiming to be the awaited Paraclete mentioned in John's Gospel, 
bringing the final apocalyptic chapter of Jesus' message. 14 Others, such as 
the Christian Gnostics, preached from their own gospel works or claimed 
to have secret oral teachings that alone contained the keys to salvation. 
What emerged from this struggle as mainstream Christianity was built on 
foundations that subdued and controlled both the written word and lived 
teaching, binding the two together. Irenaeus, a Church Father and bishop 
in second-century France, wrote that, just as there were only four direc- 
tions on the compass, there could be no more or less than four Gospels. 
Each contained the true teachings of Christ. But these teachings could 
only be accessed and explained by those who read the Gospels according 
to the 'Rule of Faith,' not twisting away from the evident meaning of their 
texts unless the inherited teachings of God's true Church instructed it. 

Irenaeus and others who would be looked back on as heroes of orthodox 
Christianity stressed that God's Church preserved Christ's teachings unified 
and infallible. It was made up of the body of the believers, represented by 
the bishops, whose authority stretched back in succession to the Aposties. 15 
By the seventh century, in Western Europe it was the Bishop of Rome who 
stood out among them. Over the centuries the power to define Christ's 
teachings would shift from Church councils to the Pope, but always it was 
this Catholic Church that determined which books made up the Bible and 
how they should be understood. This was the tradition of the Church that 
controlled and perpetuated Christian teachings. 

Interpretive traditions are thus presented with a dilemma. Whether in 
Judaism, Christianity or Islam, writing is essential for preserving inspired 
wisdom. Even Chinese Zen Buddhism, which claimed to preserve the 
original teachings of the Buddha so faithfully that it had no need to 'posit 
words,' had found by the ninth century that setting down this tradition 
in profuse written form was necessary. 16 Inspired wisdom, however, can 
never be captured entirely by the written word, so it can never be left to 
the unlearned to read in the absence of its living inheritors. So revelation 


is set down in writing by scribes and explicated by prophets. In time, the 
teachings of the prophets are preserved in writing by scholars, but those 1 
books must still be controlled by generations of scholars to come. Books 
cannot be allowed to be read alone. Even after the Mishna had been 
written down, Rabbi Yohanan bin Nappaha (d. 279) and other rabbis in 
Galilee still claimed that the tradition of Moses could only be known and 
passed on orally. 17 

The tradition built to explain revelation becomes the ether in which 
the cleric thrives, passing on to him the authority of the ancients and 
regimenting him within the guild of orthodoxy at the same time. Learning 
the tradition at the feet of scholars creates interpretive authority and pre- 
serves interpretive control. Students of St. Anselm were outraged when 
the overconfident cleric Peter Abelard dared to hold classes explicating 
books of the Bible using his own knowledge and not by following the 
interpretations of the elders. Medieval rabbis and bishops sat before their 
students and performed orally the knowledge they had learned from their 
masters and memorized from books, maintaining and passing on what a 
cinematized 1 970s Harvard law student sneaking a glance at his professor's 
own student notes still recognized as 'the unbroken chain... the ageless 
passing of wisdom' (The Paper Chase, 1973). 

In Islam, the edifice built by the ulama was equally invested in the 
living word of knowledge, certain of its indispensability and wary of the 
dangers of reading unassisted. Like the Oral Torah and Christ's teach- 
ings, early Muslim scholars believed that the prophetic wisdom needed 
to unlock the Qur'an's written message should not be consigned to the 
written word. Even the Quran was only promulgated in written form after 
worries emerged that too many of the Companions who had memorized 
it by heart had died. In part, fear of the written word was practical. The 
Arabic script in the first decades of Islam was still primitive and incom- 
plete, making texts perilous ground for misreading and misunderstanding 
if not elucidated by a teacher. Written in this ambiguous script, the scrolls 
and codices in which early scholars like Hasan Basri or Zuhri recorded 
Hadiths were meant only as skeletal reminders to jog the memory, which 
alone was the true abode of living, sacred knowledge. "Urn is not taken 
from someone who relies on written pages,' was a common early mantra. 18 
Some ulama of the eighth century were still instructing their children to 
burn their books upon their death so that no one would misconstrue notes 
illegible to the unguided heart. 


Parallel to this practical concern was the same valuation of the 'ageless 
passing of wisdom.' Even in the eleventh century, long after voluminous 
Hadith compilations had become the norm and a mainstay of ulama life, 
leading Sunni scholars still wrote manifestos against reliance on the written 
word. Even today, when most Hadith books are available online, Muslim 
scholars stress that 'Urn is a living link of knowledge acquired before a 
master. One warned in a poem: 

Indeed seeking knowledge without a teacher is like trying to light 
a lamp when one has no oil. 19 

Ulama opponents of the modern Salafi movement have accused it of 
advocating autodidactism and encouraging ordinary Muslims to pore 
over the Qur'an and Hadiths directly. This impetus has certainly come to 
the surface in the Salafi movement, but even Salafi scholars prize talaqqi 
(the transmission of living knowledge through reading books with a 
shaykh). Though some notable Salafi scholars, like the late Saudi ascetic 
Ibn 'Uthaymin, recommend studying at the hands of shaykhs more as a 
method of accelerating learning than guaranteeing its rectitude, others 
like the influential Saudi Salman 'Awda continue to emphasize how the 
ineffable passing of wisdom and authority between master and disciple 
not only ensures an accurate understanding of Islamic law and theology, 
which is impossible to achieve with books alone, but also grants access to 
the blessing (baraka) and pious example of the senior ulama. 20 

As Luther had so stridently objected, however, tradition does not just 
preserve. The carriers of tradition are also its subtle sculptors, shaping it 
to fit the needs of changing times and inevitably gathering up into its folds 
the tacit assumptions of community and culture. As bearers of tradition, 
licensed by the rite of receiving it, rabbis, ulama and modern common- 
law justices alike are the living face of a canonical heritage, allowing it to 
survive and maintaining its adherents' faith in its claim to timeless truth 
by adjusting it just enough to address the present without breaking the 
link with the past. 

In time, as successive generations of the guardian interpreters bulla, 
upon their predecessors' work, their assumptions of value and culture 
become built into the tradition that defines their religion - and into the 
religion itself. Tradition is thus an essential but double-edged sword. 
As Catholics like More and Tetzel argued, it was necessary to control 


religious interpretation and prevent chaos and lunacy from engulfing the 
Christian world. As Luther countered, tradition elevated flawed humfcn 
interpretations to the level of divine command when Christianity was 
supposedly built on Jesus' original words. Since the death of Muhammad, 
Islam has wrestled with the same paradox. The tradition of Islamic legal 
and theological interpretation is essential for the proper understanding of 
God's word, but it is also a prism in which divine inspiration and human 
fallibility mix all too easily. 


Although he had once relished the Ottoman scourge that God sent against 
the Antichrist Papacy, Luther despised Islam as much as any bishop he 
condemned. If the Saxon monk had ever managed a visit to Istanbul or 
Damascus he would have met with a mixed reaction among his Muslim 
counterparts. His rejection of highly derivative papal canon law, the scho- 
lastic theology of Aquinas (with its adoption ofpagan Greeklogic) and his 
conviction that Church tradition had departed from the original scripture 
of the Bible would have endeared him to proto-Salafi contemporaries like 
the Ottoman iconoclast Shaykh Mehmet Birgili or the followers of Ibn 
Taymiyya. But the corollary that tradition should be jettisoned and that 
each believer should return to the original scriptures of the Old and New 
Testaments would have provoked roars of laughter. 

Until the collision with the modern West, no Muslim scholar of any 
consequence ever advocated that the Qur'an be read alone. They might 
dispute on all else, but the varied sects of Islam all agreed that Muslims 
should under no circumstances read the Qur'an in a vacuum. Islam's 
sects shared two foundational principles: that the Sunna of the Prophet 
rules over and interprets the Qur'an, and that the Prophet's interpretive 
authority had been passed on to those authorities who were to lead the 
community after his death. Where sects diverged was over how and by 
whom this Sunna was known and who had the authority to speak in the 
Prophet's name. For Sunnis it was transmitted and known by the Muslim 
community as a whole, borne via the twin routes of the Hadiths, which 
recorded the Prophet's words, and the inherited teachings of the early 
Muslim generations, spoken for by the community's often cacophonous 


body of ulama. Taken together, this was the Sunni tradition, in which the 
authority of God and His Prophet could coalesce from the riot of stento- 
rian voices and express itself fully in instances of consensus (ijma 1 ) . Shiites 
believed that the Prophet's teachings were inherited by particular lines 
of his descendants. The esoteric knowledge of the religion and the ability 
to interpret infallibly the Qur'an's layers of hidden meaning passed from 
father to designated son like bloodlines. Those descendants designated 
in succession as Imams spoke with the authority of the Prophet. Further 
sectarian splintering into Imami (Twelver) and Ismaili (Sevener) schools 
followed disagreements over which line transmitted this hidden 'Urn. 

Sunni scholars read the Qur'an in the light of their tradition of sacred 
knowledge. Like Irenaeus and his 'Rule of Faith,' they broke with the 
evident meanings of the Qur'an or the secondary scripture of the Hadiths 
(and also ignored the opinions of early scholars) whenever a literal reading 
seemed to contradict Islam's coherent message as they understood it. The 
thirteenth-century Sufi master of Baghdad, Suhrawardi, explained this 
process of interpretation (Ta'wU) as a scholar shifting the literal reading 
of the text 'to another potential meaning that he sees as according with 
the Book of God and the Sunna.' Ta'wU was thus necessarily subjective, 
admits Suhrawardi, potentially differing from scholar to scholar. 21 

In order to constrain and minimalize an activity that was inherently 
dangerous - since it undeniably involved muddying the waters of revelation 
with human judgment - medieval Sunni scholars developed 'The Rule of 
Ta'wUl It stated that the evident meaning of a scriptural passage could not 
be abandoned without convincing evidence that this was necessary. As no 
less than the founder of the Ash'ari school of theology himself explained, 
Muslims should read scripture 'according to its evident, external meaning 
(zahir), except if some proof is established that it should be read according 
to a meaning other than its evident one.' 22 

The Sunni trepidation over arbitrary departures from the evident 
meaning of the Quran and Hadiths was truly born of and exacerbated by a 
very real threat. Just as Irenaeus championed his 'Rule of Faith' to exclude 
the heretical interpretations of roving Gnostics rifling on John's Gospel, 
Sunnis stressed the centrality of literal readings to counter the attractive 
esoteric interpretations offered by their Shiite competitors. 

Especially as it emerged in the second half of the ninth century, Shiism 
was the bete noire of Sunni ulama. Dispersed throughout the Middle East 
but especially numerous in Iraq and northern Iran, scattered communities 


of Muslims continued to believe that the right to lead the Muslims and 
articulate the true teachings of Islam lay with the Prophet's family, spe- 
cifically with his descendants through his daughter Fatima and his son- 
in-law, the fourth caliph, Ali. By the mid-800s, the most revered surviving 
line of descent from this couple, the succession of Shiite Imams, lived as 
prisoners in the Abbasid court and tended to die young. With the death 
of the eleventh representative descendant in this line in 874, the Shiite 
communities faced a crisis. He had no heir. 

One segment of the Shiite community, however, believed that the elev- 
enth Imam had, in fact, produced a son. Hidden away from the Abbasid 
rulers in the city of Samarra north of Baghdad, the infant twelfth Imam 
withdrew from the sick and unjust world and went into hiding. Moving 
unbeknown among the people, performing Hajj annually as he matured, 
he communicated with his followers through a select series of 'ambas- 
sadors.' In 941, the dying last ambassador announced that the 'Hidden 
Imam' was withdrawing from the world altogether. He would leave his 
community land communicate no more, trusting his followers to the Shiite 
ulama. Eventually the Hidden Imam would return to 'fill the world with 
justice as it was full of injustice.' He was thus also the 'Awaited Imam' and 
the promised messianic figure of the Mahdi. The group that continues 
to await him has grown to be the largest Shiite sect, known as Imami or 
Ithna ashari (Twelver) Shiites, and forms the majority of the populations 
of Iraq and Iran, as well as a plurality in Lebanon. 

Imami Shiism is based on the belief that Ali, as the first Imam, and the 
eleven Imams who followed him inherited the Prophet's infallible under- 
standing of the message that God revealed in the Qur'an. Although they 
did not claim to receive revelation in the same way as the Prophet did, 
the Imams were angelically guided and each was bequeathed a mystical 
capacity to access the infinite wisdom of the Qur'an. Imami law and dogma 
was built on the Qur'an, as explicated by the Imams, on the Hadiths of the 
Prophet as transmitted by the Imams and on the Hadiths of the Imams 
themselves (standing in the place of the Prophet, their rulings and teach- 
ings are just as authoritative as Muhammad's own). 

The principal objection raised by Sunnis to Imami Shiite claims, how- 
ever, was that a reading of the Qur'an does not seem to support any of them. 
The holy book never mentions Ali, Fatima, the twelve Imams or even any 
essential leadership role for the Prophet's descendants. Imami Shiites have 
answered this objection by asserting that, if the Qur'an is read properly, it 


Crowds gather at the shrine of 
the famous Sufi Nizam Al-Din 
Awliya (d. 1325) in Delhi on 
the Prophet's birthday (2012). 


Muhammad Zahid 
Kevseri (d. 1952) 


A man reads the Quran near the pulpit of 
the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul (2013). 

The Arabian Peninsula 
and environs 
ca. 600 CE 

500 km 


Bukharfs tomb 
outside of Samarqand, 
Uzbekistan. The site's 
baraka (blessing) has 
made a visit de rigeur 
fornewlyweds (2006). 


The shaded area approxim 
what early Muslim scholar 
understood by 'The Penin! 
of the Arabs (Jazirat al-'Ai 
Based on a map by 
Fred M. Dormer. 


* us 


, r }U*>ll 

!t <iillj 

c^yi c uic ,>■ ji. ^ .. jp.t ^ y f>>>^ 

iL^Li Lyk 4jtk« , l l ^JL^VI -I «T ■- Ij 1 ; ,„l |j 

** i i ■Hj 

c^ill li» J^U. ,#1^ ^jj! jiljJI fct^S ^ U»iJi - 2 

U li^ ..jiyi .jb ^^iil ^1 jipj u^Jl - 3 

iJ * 5 J ^ W* 151 ^ 

onJlLi ifj»JI i^iU,)) 1 ^ ot (^J3 |J^JI piUJI 


l>° LM^II 


A summer 2011 newspaper op-ed by Dr. Nageh Ebrahim, a leader of Egypt's Jama'a Islamiyya and a 
chief author of its Series for Correcting Understandings. The piece emphasizes the difference between 
Islam and humans' inevitably flawed interpretations of it. 

figure 11 

A young Muhammad Ghazali (d. 1996) 
wearing the robes and fez turban of Al- 
Azhar. Photo provided by his family. 

figure 13 
Shaykh Ali Gomaa as Egypt's 
Grand Mufti (circa 2005). 
Photo provided by 
Tarek Elgawhary. 


The Salafi Shaykh Yasir Burhami on the cover 
of Egypt's long running, secular leaning weekly 
magazine Rose Al-Yousef from Jan. 21, 2011. 
Published just days before the protests that 
toppled Mubarak began, the cover story describes 
Burhami as 'The most dangerous man for Egypt.' 


Students and 
teachers in th< 
courtyard of 
the Jenderami 
Pondok outsic 
of Kuala Lum] 
Malaysia (200' 



The display of the Jenderami 
school's Isnad for Islamic law 
and Sufi Learning, starting 
at the top with God and the 
Prophet and ending with 
the school's founders. There 
is an undisclosed break 
in the chain between the 
eleventh and twelfth boxes 
down from the top in the 
middle column (2009). 


A certificate showing 
the chain of sacred 
knowledge for 
the Ba'alawi Sufis. 
Beginning with 
Muhammad at the top, 
it ends with Habib 
Hamid bin Sumayt 
and then the author 
at the bottom. 


is nothing less than a complete discourse on the virtue and station of the 
Prophet's family and the duty to obey the Imams. When the Qur'an refers to 
the 'truthful ones' whom Muslims should seek out as companions (9:119) 
the holy book is referring to the Imams. They are "Those in authority 
among you,' whom the Qur'an orders Muslims to follow along with God 
and His Messenger (4:59). 'Those firmly established in knowledge,' who 
know the true meaning of the Qur'an's ambiguous verses, are none other 
than the Imams according to the Shiite reading (3:7). 23 

Whatlmami Shiites claim as the correct, esoteric reading of the Qur'an 
is known through the recorded teachings attributed to the Imams. These 
teachings and the Shiite body of prophetic Hadiths, which overlaps in 
part with Sunni Hadith collections but which contains a whole swath of 
separate material, provide the key to this totally alternative reading of the 
Qur'an. The Hadiths of the Imams explain that the holy book's poetic verses 
pronouncing 'By the fig tree and the olive, and by Mount Sinai, and by this 
inviolable land ! Verily We have created man in the best of forms' (95: 1-4) 
should be understood as meaning, 'By the Prophet, and Ali, and Hasan 
and Husayn (Ali's sons, the second and third Imams), and by the Imams, 
they were created in the best of forms...' Verses that at first glance speak 
of God ordaining that the Tribes of Israel would 'twice cause great strife 
in the land,' with God sending against them 'strong and powerful servants 
of Ours' (17:4-5) really refer to the two original failures of Sunni Islam. 
First, the majority of the Prophet's Companions failed to recognize Ali's 
true right to succeed Muhammad. Second, the Companions and later 
Sunnis denied the Imams' true standing as caliphs. The powerful servants 
of God sent against these foes refer to All and his defeat of Aisha and her 
forces during the First Civil War. 24 

As Ayatollah Khomeini noted, Sunnism and Imami Shiism have much 
more in common than not. 25 Aside from the paramount place of the Imams, 
the details of Imami Shiite law and theology do not differ tremendously 
from the internally heterogeneous system of their Sunni counterparts. 
Imami Shiites combine their daily prayers and perform them three times a 
day instead of five. They forbid eating most shellfish (not shrimp) and grant 
daughters a greater share of inheritance, at the expense of non-immediate 
male relatives. But most Sunni schools also allow combining prayers when 
traveling, and Hanafis also forbid shellfish. Unlike Sunnism, Imami Shiism 
adopted the Mutazilite school of rational theology. But the teachings of 
the Imams confirmed many of the tenets that the Mutazila had rejected 


because they were not mentioned in the Quran and that had earlier formed 
such a divide between them and Sunnis, such as belief in the Punishmeht 
of the Grave and in the Mahdi. Moreover, both Sunni and Imami Shiite 
ulama fall along an interpretive spectrum between those advocating more 
reliance on the Quran, guiding legal principles and analogy as opposed 
to those who favor a conservative adherence to the texts of the Hadiths. 
The late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw a Hadith-based revival 
movement among the Shiite scholars of southern Iraq and Bahrain similar 
to the contemporaneous revival movements sweeping the Sunni world. 
Most importantly, like Sunni Islam, Imami Shiism was politically quietist, 
devoting its attention primarily to developing a comprehensive system 
of law and belief from the Qur'an and Sunna as conceived by the Imami 
Shiite ulama. 

Another Shiite movement emerging alongside the Imamis in the 870s 
was not so docile. At its most extreme, it represented a complete break 
from the Muslim mainstream. Imami Shiites believed that the twelfth Imam 
had vanished into supernatural hiding, to return at the end of time as the 
Mahdi, the 'Rightly Guided' one who would bring God's justice to the whole 
earth. But he was not the only messianic contender. In this same decade, 
a mysterious figure in Syria began propagating the message that he was 
the grandson of the fifth Imam. Thought to have died, this grandson had 
actually vanished from the world but had now returned as the Imam-cum- 
Mahdi to usher in an apocalyptic end time. This mysterious puppetmaster 
sent missionaries far and wide, and soon armed bodies of his followers 
gathered and built camps and redoubts on the plains of southern Iraq, on 
the Arab Gulf coast, in Yemen, northern Iran and in modern-day Tunisia. 
Soon the troops of this Fatimid movement, as it became known due to the 
Mahdi's claimed descent from Fatima, began ravaging the peasant com- 
munities of Iraq and Syria, even laying siege to Damascus in 902. When 
adversity forced the self-proclaimed Mahdi to move from Syria to North 
Africa, the Fatimid caliphate, the 'State of Truth,' was proclaimed in 910. 
Within decades the Fatimids would conquer Egypt and Syria, build the 
great capital metropolis of Cairo and even briefly occupy Baghdad. The 
Fatimid armies threatened the Abbasid caliphate's borders, its extensive 
network of recruiters and propagandists penetrated the great Sunni strong- 
holds of Iraq and coreligionists installed in the impregnable mountain 
fortresses of Syria and northern Iran sent their supposedly hashish-crazed 
Hashishiyin (Assassins,' coining the term) to cut down Sunni and Crusader 


Christian princes alike. The Fatimids and their sect of Shiism, known as 
Ismaili Shiism, were the most dominant and feared force in the Middle 
East until Saladin put an end to the Fatimid state in 1171. 

Like the Imamis, the Ismaili Shiism of the Fatimids was based on an 
'inner' (batini) reading of the Qur'an. Ismaili teachings, however, grew out 
of the legacy of Plotinus and Gnostic notions of the inherent corruption 
of the material world, a world that had been born out of sin and rebellion 
against God. Human souls were imprisoned in this matter and yearn for 
release into the divine realm. They can achieve this redemption only after 
being granted the secret, saving knowledge brought by prophets. Ismaili 
teachings held that history has seen a series of six of these prophets, each 
one a 'Speaker' bringing a new law: Adam, Noah, Abraham^ Moses, Jesus 
and Muhammad. At the side of each 'Speaker' came an 'Inheritor.' These 
were more laconic figures like Aaron, Peter and, in Muhammad's case, Ali. 
While the shape and details of each prophet's law created distinct religions 
that differed outwardly, the 'Inheritors' carried the secret, true and unified 
teaching. It revealed to the elect initiates that behind all these exoteric reli- 
gions was the one 'Religion of Truth.' Each 'Speaker' is followed by seven 
Imams, the last of whom begins the cycle again. Then, in this last cycle of 
Muhammad and Ali, the seventh Imam will be the messianic Mahdi who 
inaugurates the glorious and open rule of the Religion of Truth. When he 
comes, all religious laws, the Shariah included, will be swept aside and 
humankind will live by the pure Edenic religion of Adam once again. The 
Ismailis preached that this was all contained in the Qur'anic scripture and 
the true teachings of Muhammad, but only the Fatimid Imam's teachings 
could decode this hidden message. 26 

The Fatimid Imam was the living prophetic presence on earth. Ismaili 
scholars argued with Sunni delegations that the Qur'anic verse that 
declared Muhammad to be 'the Messenger of God and the Seal of the 
Prophets' (33:40) actually referred to two separate individuals. Muhammad 
was the Messenger of God, but it was the Fatimid Imam who was the 'Seal, 
ending prophecy and ushering in the end of days. Indeed, the Imams 
appearance could have signaled the immediate end of the Shariah, but 
the Fatimid state continued to rule by Shariah law like all Muslim states. 
Although modern Ismaili followers of the Agha Khan practice a religion 
markedly different from other Muslims, the or iginal Ismaili law school was 
based on much of the same Hadiths recorded from the early Shiite Imams 
and found in Imami law, and Imami and medieval Ismaili law overlapped 


to a great extent. The Fatimid state instituted the Shiite version of the call 
to prayer (which adds the phrase 'Ali is the inheritor from God'), banned 
the optional nightly communal prayers held at mosques during Ramadan 
(a custom introduced by Umar, a vile figure for Shiites) and (oddly like 
Salafis) banned the visitation of saints' graves. They generally left the Sunni 
population of North Africa unmolested, with the most contentious issue 
of practice being the Ismaili custom of fasting Ramadan for thirty days 
without variation, while Sunnis might fast only twenty-nine days if the 
new moon was sighted early. 27 

But a splinter group of Ismailis in southern Iraq, the east coast of Arabia 
and even in Yemen, who had broken away from the Fatimid claimant to the 
imamship, took a radically different approach to the Shariah. Identifying 
their own local, true, returned Imam, whom they considered to be God 
incarnate, they declared the age of religious law terminated. Between 912 
and 951, these communities of Qarmatians, as they were known, banned 
Islam's daily prayers, destroyed mosques in eastern Arabia, ate pork and 
drank wine openly in daylight during Ramadan. They repeatedly robbed 
and slaughtered caravans of pilgrims headed to Hajj and, in 930, they com- 
mitted the unprecedented abomination of sacking the holy sanctuary of 
Mecca as pilgrims performed their Hajj, massacring countless innocents. 
The Qarmatian leader Abu Tahir wrenched the sacred Black Stone from the 
Kaaba and returned with it to eastern Arabia. There he broke it in half and 
installed it as steps to his latrine, while his followers contented themselves 
with wiping their anuses with pages ripped from copies of the Qur'an (the 
stone's return was negotiated twenty-two years later). 28 

Several prominent Sunni ulama perished in the Qarmatian attack on 
Mecca, and one scholar who survived recalled that even amid the carnage 
questions of misinterpreting scripture rose to the fore. As the Qarmatian 
warriors slaughtered pilgrims in the sanctuary around the Kaaba, the 
scholar described how the Qarmatian leader mocked the Qur'anic verse in 
which God describes Mecca as the first sanctuary appointed for humankind 
and that 'whoever enters it is safe' (3:96). 'What sort of safety is this!' the 
Qarmatian scoffed. He had not understood, the Sunni scholar realized, that 
the verse was not a description but rather a prescription. It was a command 
to assure the safety of anyone who entered the sanctuary. 29 

These monstrous deeds (even the Fatimids in Egypt renounced the 
Qarmatian Ismailis), the military success of the Fatimid state and the 
threat of the Ismaili Assassins sent the Sunni political and scholarly elite 


into paroxysms of fear. The allure of the Ismaili message, which offered 
initiation to the privileged and elite 'Friends of God' who would learn the 
true, hidden meaning behind the Qur'an, was deeply threatening to the 
Sunni ulama. It offered a totally alternative interpretive path and presented 
the Imam as an infallible and living source of certainty as opposed to the 
contentious disunity of Sunni law and dogma, a tradition that the Fatimid 
Imams accused of turning the Qur'an 'into lies.' 30 It has been plausibly 
argued that the institutionalization of Sunnism in the eleventh century 
was a defensive reaction to the multilevel Fatimid threat. 31 

Imami Shiism was equally threatened by its close relative. Fervently 
denying any link to the Ismailis, throughout the eleventh and twelfth 
centuries Imami scholars accused them of using Ta'wil perversely. The 
Ismailis assigned supposedly hidden meanings to Qur'anic verses that 
had no relation to their original intentions, argued Imamis, for 'corrupt 
purposes, to delude the people and to call to their false school of thought.' 32 
Imami Shiism read esoteric meanings behind the surface of the Qur'an 
(as Sunni Sufis did as well), but this hidden wisdom only added to the 
outward letter of the revelation. It could never invalidate or contradict 
it. For Imamis, there might be numerous levels of meaning behind the 
verse declaring Muhammad 'the Messenger of God and the Seal of the 
Prophets,' accessible only to the Imams. But they would not dare question 
its fundamental, outer teaching: thatprophecywas sealed andended with 
Muhammad. Responding to and rebutting Ismaili arguments thus became 
a chief priority of Sunni and Imami Shiite scholars alike. In 1011, in fact, 
the Sunni caliph in Baghdad and the Iranian Shiite military junta that was 
exercising effective control over Iraq and Iran issued a rare joint manifesto. 
It was a condemnation of the Fatimid state and Ismailism. 


Whenever he could, St. Augustine answered questions with scripture. On 
several occasions, however, the peerless Church Father was asked about 
the validity of Christian practices that had no basis in the Bible. Augustine 
responded that, if the practice was widespread enough, it needed no such 
justification. 'In those things concerningwhich the divine Scriptures have 
laid down no definite rule, the custom of the people of God, or the prac- 
tices instituted by their fathers, are to be held as the law of the Church.' 33 


Beyond carrying the weight of God's law, the 'custom of the people of 
God' could sometimes bestow on otherwise earthly writings the starts 
of words inspired by God. A century before Augustine, the Bishop of 
Caesarea in Palestine had taken up the relation of custom and scripture. 
Like his teacher Origen, Eusebius was a thorough collector and scholar of 
texts. His History of the Church provides one of the earliest listings of which 
writings Christians (or at least those who shared Eusebius' near-orthodox 
Christology) considered canonical. Eusebius describes his criteria for 
distinguishing true Gospel writings from false. Books that embodied the 
authentic teachings of the Apostles could be traced back to their putative 
authors, reflected their particular writing styles and conformed to the 
true teachings of the Church. Spurious books forged by some malfeasant 
or mistakenly attributed to an Apostolic figure were betrayed by their 
inconsistent writing styles, their heretical contents or because they were 
books to which no 'churchman of any generation has ever seen fit to refer 
in his writings.' 34 

There was also a middle tier of 'Disputed' writings, whose textual 
authenticity and attribution to their authors were suspect but which were 
nonetheless accepted as scripture. These included such books, familiar to 
modern readers of the New Testament, as the Epistles of James and Jude 
and the Second Epistle of Peter. Eusebius accepted these dubious writ- 
ings as scripture inspired by God and compelling for Christians because 
they 'have been regularly used in very many churches.' 3s The custom of 
the people of God had validated them. 

The methods that Eusebius and Origen had used to authenticate writ- 
ings attributed to the Apostles foreshadowed the Islamic science of Hadith 
criticism, but the depth and breadth of the ulama's accomplishments 
dwarfed those of the Church Fathers. The endless volumes of Hadith 
transmitter criticism, of examinations of the chains of transmission for 
breaks or corroboration had no precedent in scale or complexity in either 
Christianity of Judaism, on indeed in any heritage. The great canonical 
Hadith collections of the ninth century stand as monuments to Sunni Islam, 
expressions of that sect's resounding commitment to basing both action 
and belief on the rigorously authenticated precedent of the Prophet. The 
Sunni obsession with Hadiths and grounding law directly in the Qur'an 
and Sunna was a hallmark of the movement, eclipsing in rhetoric if not 
always in reality those schools that held that Muhammad's precedent was 
best preserved in principles of problem-solving or sacred custom. 


Reality fell short of this rhetoric, however, and during the first four 
centuries of Islam, the religious practice and legal customs affirmed by 
the ulama continued to play a central role in determining Sunni law and 
dogma, often above or despite scripture. As in the case of Eusebius, 
custom could create scripture and, like Eusebius, the ulama acknowl- 
edged this. During the crucial period of Islamic religious scholarship in 
the ninth century, Sunni scholars otherwise committed to deriving laws 
and beliefs from Hadiths often admitted that an otherwise inadmissible 
Hadith was just a fig leaf, corporealizing custom in the legitimate form 
of the Prophet's words. 

It would take a cosmic level of cynicism to accuse Muslim scholars of 
feigning entirely their commitment to preserving the Prophet's Sunna and 
concocting the vast body of Hadiths out of whole cloth to justify received 
practice. This was, of course, precisely the level of cynicism exhibited by 
several generations of Western scholars of Islam, many of whom claimed 
that all of early Islamic history was an illusion conjured up by Sunni 
orthodoxy in the 800s. The most recent Western scholarship on Hadiths 
has shown that such wide-scale forgery was highly improbable. Textual 
analysis and archeological evidence can take us back reliably to within a 
century of the Prophet's death, and as far back as that horizon the Sunni 
science of Hadith transmission and law seems to have been an honest 
if hotly contested undertaking. As for the first crucial century of Islam, 
beyond its broad outlines, it lies out of historical sight. For those who 
ponder it, the contents of its veiled chamber are determined by presup- 
position, whether belief in Islam or skepticism about religion, whether 
Sunni or Shiite. Only scattered epigraphic evidence and the unique artifact 
of the Qur'an shed a narrow archival light on this period, a mission that 
the existence of the very trenchant disagreements in question proves the 
holy book was never meant to fulfill. 

As Muslim scholars themselves admitted, Hadith forgery in the genera- 
tions after the Prophet was widespread, and many Hadiths were certainly 
concocted for political or sectarian causes or in an effort to help make 
exegetical sense of the Qur'an. But we are justified in granting individual 
Hadiths the historical benefit of the doubt until given some reason to 
think otherwise. It is not unlikely that many Hadiths really can be traced 
back to the generation of the Companions and represent their personal 
recollections of Muhammad's teachings. 36 When looking at the lengthy 
and unexciting chapters on ablution, prayer or inheritance in mainstay 


Hadith collections, it seems more plausible that the Prophet actually made 
many of these statements than that each Hadith was made up to suit some 
boring purpose. 

Though they may have occasionally forged scriptural evidence and 
frequently engaged in great artistry or gymnastics to twist evidence to 
their liking, Muslim scholars could also ab andon cherished p ositions when 
confronted with compelling arguments. Daraqutni, the leading Sunni 
Hadith scholar of tenth-century Baghdad, espoused the virulent anti- 
Shiite sentiments typical of Sunnis in a period in which Ismaili and Imami 
Shiism were triumphant. When he heard the Hadith supposedly said by 
the Prophet that 'Hasan and Husayn (the two sons of Ali, the second and 
third Imams) are the two lords of the youths in Heaven,' he dismissed it 
as a forgery by one Suwayd bin Sa'id. Daraqutni recalled that he clung to 
this opinion for years, thinking that 'Suwayd had committed a great crime 
in narrating this Hadith,' until he traveled to Egypt and found the Hadith 
corroborated by another, reliable chain of transmission. Regardless of its 
pro-Shiite flavor, Daraqutni accepted the Hadith as sound and cleared 
Suwayd's name. 37 

On occasion we can perceive clearly the role of pious custom in elevating 
to scriptural status some item from the commonplace utterances of early 
saintly teachers and scholars. In Islam, as in Judaism and even more so 
in Zoroastrianism, menstruation or vaginal bleeding places a woman in a 
state of ritual impurity. As a result, she abstains from her daily prayers until 
the bleeding ceases. In the case of menstruation, a woman does not pray 
for the normal duration of her menses. If a woman experiences incessant 
light bleeding apart from her normal period, she simply performs normal 
ablutions and prays as usual. 

The bleeding that a woman experiences after childbirth, known as 
Nifas, is more irregular and difficult to chart. Early Muslim scholars were 
asked how long a woman should skip her prayers after delivering a child. 
Finding no evident scriptural ruling on the subject, they used best judg- 
ment. Malik felt that a woman should ask other women around her how 
long her bleeding might last and abstain for that time. Most early scholars, 
including Shafi'i and Ibn Hanbal, felt that she should stop her prayers until 
her bleeding ceased. If the period exceeded forty days, then the period of 
Nifas had ritually ended even if some bleeding continued. Hasan Basri, 
for his part, felt that Nifas could last fifty days. Eventually all four Sunni 
schools converged on the position that the period of 'Nifas was forty days, 


with no fixed minimum. After that, the new mother would resume her 
daily prayers whether her bleeding had stopped or not. 38 

There was no reliable Hadith anywhere on this topic. Yet we find 
chapters devoted to the issue in the canonical Hadith collections of the 
mid- ninth century, which feature several Hadiths on Nifas. These Hadiths 
then repeatedly appear as evidence in subsequent books of Shariah law. 
The main Hadith quotes the Prophet's wife Umm Salama recalling that 
women in the Prophet's time observed a forty-day break from prayers 
after childbirth. But none of these Hadiths in any way met even the lowest 
bar of reliability according to the Sunni science of transmission criticism. 
After including this Hadith in his canonical Hadith collection, Tirmidhi 
admits its unreliability. But he is quick to add that 'scholars had come to 
consensus on this ruling.' 39 The Hadiths that set a forty-day period hi Nifas 
thus entered into the body of Islamic scripture not because they could 
be reliably traced back to the Prophet, but because they manifested in 
compelling scriptural form the amorphous collective custom of Muslim 
legal culture. Similarly, Muslim scholars from all four Sunni schools of law 
agreed that a person paid no charity tax on green vegetables they grew. 
Tirmidhi provides a Hadith in which the Prophet is quoted to that effect 
but notes that it is unreliable as well. 'And there is nothing sound on this 
topic coming from the Prophet,' he concludes, 'but it is the practice of 
the scholars.' 40 


In 1947, in the Muslim north of British-ruled Nigeria, the colonial appeals 
court overturned a death sentence handed down by a local Shariah court 
in the case of a man who had murdered his wife's lover. Unlike the Shariah 
court, the British judges decided that the cuckolded killer had been pro- 
voked and should be spared due to mitigating circumstances. 41 

Along with quips about camels and hummus, 'honor killing' is among 
the first phrases that average folk in the West associate with Islam. As 
intimated by the British court's decision, this does not reflect the reality 
of the Shariah tradition. Violence committed against women for perceived 
compromises of family honor is a product of patriarchal societies suffer- 
ing from economic underdevelopment. The phenomenon is found across 


religions and from Brazil to India. Ironically, those Arab countries with legal 
provisions that treat honor crimes more lightly than comparable offenses 
all draw these laws from the Ottoman Criminal Code of 1858. It, in turn, 
translated this provision directly from the French Legal Code of 1810. 42 

Questions about honor killings have regularly found their way into 
the inboxes of leading muftis like Yusuf Qaradawi or the late Lebanese 
Shiite scholar Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah. Their responses reflect a rare 
consensus. No Muslim scholar of any note, either medieval or modern, 
has sanctioned a man killing his wife or sister for tarnishing her or the 
family's honor. If a woman or man found together were to deserve the 
death penalty for fornication, this would have to be established by the 
evidence required by the Qur'an: either a confession or the testimony of 
four male witnesses, all upstanding in the eyes of the court, who actually 
saw penetration occur. In great part, this uniform condemnation results 
from the Prophet having clearly affirmed that even killing someone found 
in the act of adultery would be punished as murder, unless four males hap- 
pened to be present to witness penetration and testify that adultery had 
occurred. But in his strong condemnation of honor killing as foreign to the 
Shariah, Qaradawi has to note one exception to the normal punishment 
a murderer could expect. 'A father is not executed for killing his child,' he 
notes, 'which is the position of the Muslim jurists.' 43 

Questions such as the duration oiNifas or tax on green vegetables are 
innocuous. On other topics, however, legal custom could create scripture 
in a way that would seriously affect the lives of Muslims. It is assuring 
that, in these controversial cases, claims of universal agreement tend to 
dissolve upon inspection. One finds a minority who objects to the pri- 
macy of custom over revealed scripture. Just as Augustine had to qualify 
his empowerment of the 'custom of the people of God' with the condi- 
tion that this custom be one 'observed throughout the whole world,' so 
Muslim claims about the consensus of jurists lose their force if they prove 
less than unanimous. 

In the Shariah, offenses were divided into those against God and those 
against man. Crimes against God violated His Hudud, or 'boundaries,' and 
were offenses whose punishments were specified by the Qur'an and, in 
some cases, the Hadiths, such as the punishment of certain kinds of theft 
by amputating a hand, punishing adultery by stoning and sexual slander 
by lashing. Because these offenses were affronts against a merciful God, 
the evidentiary standards were often impossibly high (such as the four 


witnesses to sexual penetration required to prove adultery). Moreover, 
the Prophet ordered Muslim judges to 'ward off the Hudud [punishments] 
by ambiguities.' The severe Hudud punishments were meant to convey 
the gravity of those offenses against God and to deter, not to be carried 
out. If a thief refused to confess, or if a confessed adulterer retracted his 
confession, the Hudud punishments would be waived. 

This did not entail that the culprit escaped justice. Circumstantial evi- 
dence, such as a witness to the theft or finding the stolen good in the thief's 
possession, could lead the judge to find him guilty of wrongful appropria- 
tion (ghasb). The wronged party could reclaim their possession or receive 
compensation for its value plus damages entailed. This coexistence of two 
legal wrongs identical in fact but subject to two very different standards 
of evidence and punishment is analogous to the relationship between the 
crime of theft and the tort of conversion in common law. While the first 
requires evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and can be punished 
with prison, the second only needs a preponderance of evidence and car- 
ries monetary damages. In cases that fell below the Hudud category in the 
Shariah, judges regularly assigned lesser punishments such as a beating, 
prison or public humiliation. 

Shariah judges did not perceive applying lighter punishments as com- 
pensation for a design flaw in God's law. Rather, they felt they were obeying 
the Prophet's infallible command to find some means to move a crime 
from the harsh realm of the Hudud to the lower level of offenses that a 
judge could punish at his discretion. This was a priority for the ulama. In 
fifteenth-century Cairo, when the Mamluk sultan's men caught a royal 
administrator 'embracing' a mistress, and the couple confessed to fornicat- 
ing, the sultan himself took an interest in the impending execution. When 
the couple then retracted their confession, the senior Shariah judge in Cairo 
was sent into exile for insisting - correctly, other ulama affirmed - that the , 
couple's sentence had to be commuted and that 'whoever executes them 
should be executed in turn.' 44 

Offenses against man included murder, manslaughter, injuring some- 
one intentionally or accidentally or damaging property. These were not 
necessarily less serious than offenses against God in terms of the harm they 
caused; murder is arguably more grievous than slander, yet the latter is a 
Hudud offense and the former is not. God could forgive wrongs against 
Himself, but offenses against man involved a person whose rights had been 
infringed. Earthly torts must be redressed. In the adjudication of injuries, 


victims or their kin won either the right to request retaliatory punishment 
against the perpetrator (a murderer would be executed by the court) 0r, 
more often, financial compensation from the perpetrator (the family of 
a murder victim received one thousand gold coins, for example). If an 
injured party did not want to accept monetary compensation for their 
injury, he could request that the court inflict an 'eye for an eye' punish- 
ment on the offender. 

In this light, why would a parent not forfeit their life for taking the life 
of their child? To be sure, the parent was still liable for lesser punishments 
and for paying compensation money. Yet the message sent by exempting 
a parent from the possibility of facing death for murdering their child 
nonetheless seems an unjust undervaluation of the child's life. The Qur'an, 
after all, ordains 'a life for a life' and declares, 'O you who believe, death 
as retaliatory punishment has been ordained for you in the case of those 
killed...' How could the exception for a parent exist? 

The answer lies in the Hadith 'A father is not killed as punishment 
for [killing] his child,' which all Sunni schools except the Malikis took 
as qualifying the Qur'an. The precedent was purportedly first set by the 
caliph Umar when the Hadith led him not to execute a father who had 
killed his son. This Hadith, however, was only attested by unreliable 
chains of transmission (see Appendix II). Early scholars from Shafi'i to 
Tirmidhi admitted that it was unreliable but replied that a large number of 
early scholars had nonetheless acted on it. Invoking the power of judicial 
custom, the prolific author and Shariah judge in eleventh-century Lisbon, 
Ibn Abd al-Barr, defended the Hadith by claiming it 'is so well known 
among the jurists of all climes, so widely spread and acted on that a chain 
of transmission is unnecessary.' 45 

Yet contrary to Qaradawi and Ibn Abd al-Barr, only three of the four 
Sunni schools of law held that a father cannot be executed for killing his 
child (Hanbalis and Hanafis apply this to the mother as well). There was 
never some universal custom that could empower an otherwise feeble 
Hadith. Ibn Mundhir, a tenth-century scholar who collated the many and 
varied opinions of Muslim scholars to determine when consensus had 
actually occurred, rejected the claim of consensus on filicide (a parent 
killing their non-infant child). A number of leading scholars, he noted, 
held that the father was treated like any other person based on the evident 
meaning of the Qur'anic verses as well as the Hadith that 'The believers 
are equal to one another in their blood.' He added that he had heard no 


reliable Hadiths to exempt the father from this ruling. The entire Maliki 
madhhab had rejected the unreliable Hadith in question as evidence for 
abandoning the Qur'anic principle of 'a life for a life.' Malik understood 
the report of Umar's ruling in the case of the father and son to mean that 
in the case of a father committing the unintentional manslaughter of his 
child, the parent should not face death but only pay compensation. If a 
parent committed the premeditated murder of a child or did so in cold 
blood, the Malikis concluded, then he would face death like anyone else. 4 "'' 

What could explain this bizarre exception to what otherwise seemed 
a clear Qur'anic principle, as well as one of broader equity, that a life 
answers for a life? One of the most influential parts of the legal heritage of 
the Near East before Islam, which formed the context in which the Shariah 
was articulated, was Roman law. Throughout the eastern empire and over 
a span of centuries, this important heritage was shaped in each Roman 
province as the edicts of emperors and the judgments of local Roman 
prefects alternately asserted Roman values and affirmed local practices. 

Famous in its own time and notorious for some time since, the Roman 
principle of patria potestas was a hallmark of the Eternal City's law. 'The 
power of the father' was vitae necisque potestas, 'the power over life and 
death' for all members of his household. It granted the patriarch the right to 
kill a child with impunity. In time, this godlike authority sat uneasily with 
an increasingly Christian empire. Among Roman Christian writers, the 
idea of the father as the holder of the power over life and death was more 
suitably transposed onto God the Father. 47 And by Constantine's time, the 
crime of filicide was listed under the category of parracidium, punishable 
by chastisement. The skilled imperial jurists compiling the self-assertively 
Christian law code of the emperor Justinian found a more assertive solution. 
They located a legal ruling by the pagan emperor Hadrian that sentenced 
a father who had killed his son to exile on an island.* 

Christian sentiment seems to have tempered patriapotestas markedly by 
the time Islam arrived in the eastern provinces. But evidence indicates that 
the Roman father's power over life and death had always been an 'abstract 
definition of power,' to quote Yan Thomas, and not a reality in daily life. 
The authority of the father as the center of the family was the primordial 

* That Justinian's legai experts were scraping hard for a condemnation of filicide is 
evident in the details of Hadrian's law. The father was being punished not because he 
Wiled his son but because he killed his son in anger, forgetting the parental obligation 
of mercy (Digest, 48:9:5). 


bedrock on which Roman law was built and the idiom in which power 
was conceived. It had to be absolute. The rare instances in which patria 
potestas was invoked in its fullest sense come from Rome's semi-mythic 
past, such as the legendary character of Lucius Junius Brutus putting his 
son to death for a conspiracy against the Republic. The actual references 
to patria potestas in later, functioning Roman law suggests that it was a 
hyperbolic device used to characterize the core ideals of filial loyalty. It 
was an ancient and reaffirmed testament to the belief that, ultimately, 
family and the authority of the father over the son trumped the man-made 
institutions of the state and even the law itself. 48 

Several European scholars have argued that Islamic law adopted much 
of Roman provincial law, notably as passed through Jewish law. The Shariah 
tradition certainly mirrors the principle of patria potestas in noticeable 
ways, but this could have indigenous roots as well. Like its Roman precur- 
sor, the Shariah's effective confirmation of patria potestas seems more a 
reflection of the deep logic of law and society than a common court ruling. 
Like the ancient familial origins of Roman society, the Arabian world of 
the Qur'an was based on the family and tribe, and patrilineal descent 
was its organizing principle. A product of this stateless world, the Qur'an 
conceived of murder as a wrong committed against the victim's kin, not 
against 'the state.' The father was the font and axis of his progeny's entire 
legal existence and rights to protection in the tribal system. How could 
he be punished for killing one of them? 

Yet the Qur'an also created a system of values above and outside its 
tribal context, encouraging mercy The holy book allowed the family of a 
murdered individual a choice: insist on the murderer's execution, accept 
monetary compensation (or wergild, diya in Arabic) instead, or pardon 
the killer altogether. The majority of Muslim scholars held that those rela- 
tives who had the prerogative of pardoning the murderer or receiving the 
compensation payment were the very same relatives who would inherit 
from the victim. 

The Qur'an vitiates the patriarchy of Arab society in its schema for 
dividing inheritance, granting shares to males and females, patrilineal 
and matrilineal. If the dead person has children and surviving parents, 
then the (grand)father and the (grand)mother each receives a sixth of 
the wealth. But the ancient agnatic (agnates here being one's patrilineal 
relatives) framework of Arabia remains in the Qur'an. Ason receives twice 
the inheritance portion of a daughter. If the deceased had no children but 


was survived by his parents, then the father receives two thirds of the 
estate and the mother only one third (4:11). Sunni ulama affirmed the 
agnatic underpinnings of inheritance when elaborating further details of 
the law. Of non-,agnates, only the deceased's wife, mother, grandmother 
sister and daughter inherited. Eligible agnates were much more numer- 
ous: paternal uncles and cousins as well as grandchildren through sons 
can all inherit, with any remainder going to other agnates. 49 The Maliki 
school, moreover, grants the victim's agnates, such as the father and 
paternal uncles, priority in deciding whether to pardon a killer or receive 
the monetary compensation. 

All Muslim scholars agreed that a murderer cannot inherit from his 
victim, nor can the killer pardon himself if he is a relative of the victim. 50 
Nonetheless, when a father kills his child, the obstruction in the deep 
logic of the law is still felt. How can the father be killed in retaliation for 
his son when he is the axis of the patriarchal structure that still, despite 
Qur'anic mitigations, manages punishment and resolution? In a way, the 
father is the keystone of the legal structure. The law cannot remove him 
from its own vault. 

The contradictions in the deep legal logic of the Shariah or the ves- 
tigial patriarchy of its foundations were not enough to convince some 
medieval ulama. The Qur'an had, after all, condemned with great pathos 
the Arabian practice of burying unwanted female infants alive. It was not 
just the Maliki school of law that rejected exempting a father from death 
for murdering his child. The question troubled a leading Shafi'i scholar 
of the twelfth century as well. Lecturing at the preeminent Nizamiyya 
Madrasa in Baghdad, not far from the pontoon bridges that spanned 
the Tigris at the heart of the city, Fakhr al-Islam Shashi told his students 
that jurists had based their ruling in this question on a false Hadith and 
then blindly imitated each other for generations. The reasoning behind 
not putting a father to death for killing his child, Shashi explained, was 
ostensibly that the father was an essential cause in the child's existence, 
so how could the child be the cause of the father's non-existence? Shashi 
found this laughable. If the father fornicated with his own daughter, he- 
would be stoned to death even though he was the cause of his daughter's 
existence as well. 'And anyway, what understanding of law comes from 
this?!' he objected in exasperation. Why could the child's murder not be 
the reason for the father's death, 'when the father had disobeyed God 
most high?' 51 



According to all the theories of language elaborated by Muslim legal schol- 
ars, the Qur'anic proclamation that "There is no compulsion in religion. 
The right path has been distinguished from error' is as absolute and uni- 
versal a statement as one finds. The truth had been made clear, and now, 
'Whoever wants, let him believe, and whoever wants, let him disbelieve,' 
the holy book continues (2:256, 18:29). 

Why then do all four Sunni schools of law agree that a Muslim man 
who leaves Islam is killed if he refuses to recant (the Hanafis only punish a 
woman with imprisonment)? The ruling is based on a number of Hadiths 
considered totally reliable by Sunni scholars, such as 'Whoever changes 
his religion, kill him' and another specifying that a Muslim's life is only 
taken for three crimes: murder, adultery and apostasy. 52 

Most Western polities have placed religious choice in the realm of 
private life, which became possible once the significant structures and 
identities of states were sufficiently detached from religion. Spinoza praised 
the religious freedom of the new Dutch Republic, and he contrasted it with 
ancient Israel. There, the Jewish religion had been coterminous with the 
Hebrew polity. Anyone who defected from the worship of Yahweh was a 
traitor to the state and ceased to be a citizen. 53 The Umma that germinated 
from the Muslim community in Medina quickly became too vast and diverse 
to be politically centralized, but it remained unified as a confessional polity 
in which Islam undergirded the regnant order. Other religious communi- 
ties, global minorities like Jews or regional majorities like Hindus, fit as 
protected minorities within the Umma. If a Christian, Hindu or Jew wanted 
to move into the Islamic community, this was welcomed. A Muslim leaving 
the fold, however, was undermining the religious order of the Umma. This 
vital dimension of communal loyalty is alluded to in the Hadith laying out 
the three capital crimes for Muslims. The Prophet describes the apostate 
as 'one leaving his religion, forsaking the community! 

This mode of thinking about religion as a political and communal iden- 
tity as opposed to a mere matter of conscience went unchallenged until 
the modern period, when Muslims encountered the Western model. The 
ulama had always been exceedingly patient with potential apostates, grant- 
ing them the chance to explain any problematic religious statements they 
may have made. 'The speaker is to be asked about his intended meaning' 


was a standard procedural principle. When asked about an unthinkable 
slander overheard in the literary salons of Cairo in 1902, that people were 
'mocking' the Sunna of the Prophet, the conservative Grand Mufti of Egypt 
ruled that the person who said this could not be declared an unbeliever 
until he was asked if he was mocking a specific practice that he thought 
was unworthy of the Prophet, or if he was really insulting the Prophet 
himself. In the first case, the man might only be mistaken but otherwise 
sincere in his Islam. 

Consensus on the severity of ap ostasy held strong well into the twentieth 
century. Even reformists like the tireless Rector of Al-Azhar, Mahmud 
Shaltut, affirmed the basic rule that leaving Islam was a death-penalty 
offense. It was not until the 1990s that more contemporary Egyptian 
ulama tackled the problem of apostasy and religious freedom in the 
modern world. Two scholars in particular have stood out. The son of a 
successful lawyer, Ali Gomaa was recognized for his exceptional talents 
while he was firmly ensconced within Al-Azhar's anti-Salafi and politi- 
cally quietist mainstream. In 2003 he was elevated to the position of 
state Grand Mufti. Also an Ah Azhar- trained Egyptian, the village-born 
Yusuf Qaradawi felt the other end of the state's pike along with thou- 
sands of other Muslim Brothers summarily dumped in prison. Later, as 
a darling of the Qatari royal family, he combined the rich heritage of the 
Al-Azhar tradition with a mild Salafi leaning. He rose to prominence 
through his prolific writing and pioneering appearances on pan-Arab 
satellite media. 

Both scholars arrived at the same conclusions regarding apostasy, 
and both took the legal custom of Muslims as more determinative of 
the Prophet's teachings than Hadiths themselves. Gomaa and Qaradawi 
affirmed that, at the level of personal conscience and private religion, the 
freedom of belief was absolute. The Qur'an had clearly mandated this. 
But neither scholar questioned the authenticity of the sahih Hadiths that 
declared leaving Islam a death-penalty offense. To do so would be to cut 
too deeply into the flesh of tradition. Instead, the two scholars bypassed 
the Hadiths by subordinating them to the actual case-by-case rulings of 
Muhammad and the early caliphs on apostates. Gomaa provides a lengthy 
list of instances in which the Prophet overlooked blatant unbelief among 
the Medinan 'Hypocrites' and even pardoned such career reprobates as Ibn 
Abi Sarh, a Meccan who had converted to Islam and joined Muhammad 
as one of his scribes in Medina, only to cast off the new faith and seek 


fortune anew back in Mecca as a satirist insulting the Prophet in poetry.* 
Both Gomaa and Qaradawi cite the ruling made by Umar, who as caliph 
stated his preference for offering apostates another chance to believe 
before imprisoning them if they refused. The legal custom of the Prophet 
and early caliphs therefore prove that the Hadiths ordering execution for 
apostasy cannot be taken as definitive. It must be understood within some 
specified context. 

Gomaa compares the apostasy condemned by the Hadiths as closer to 
high treason, namely a betrayal of the Muslim state and polity. Qaradawi 
distinguishes this severe form of apostasy, which he labels 'Apostasy of 
Transgression,' from the lesser apostasy of an individual making the per- 
sonal choice to privately change his or her religious beliefs. This lesser form 
was not punishable under the Shariah. Transgressive apostasy, such as 
public ridicule of Islam or calling others to apostatize, however, amounted 
to an attack on the religious structures of society and was indeed punishable 
by death. Furthermore, Qaradawi interprets Umar's lenient statement on 
apostasy as evidence that the gruff second caliph understood the Prophet's 
severe condemnations of leaving Islam as a ceiling of punishment and not 
a strict rule. Like the case of forbidding tobacco and coffee, treatment of 
apostates fell to the ruler's discretion. 54 

Dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists like Gomaa and Qaradawi could 
not justify ignoring authenticated Hadiths by invoking modern values. 
They had concluded that the evidence, in this case communal practice, 
trumped the Hadiths. They explained this by recourse to the epistemo- 
logical hierarchy of Islamic legal theory. Even the soundest Hadiths were 
rarely transmitted widely enough to meet the grade of massively diffuse 
and parallel transmission (tawatur), like that of the Qur'an. As a result, 
they only yielded strong probability, not certainty, that the Prophet 
had made the statements attributed to him in the Hadiths. Qur'anic 
principles like religious freedom, by contrast, were certainties, and any 
Hadiths that touched on such principles would have to be understood 
in light of them. 

This strategy for bypassing authentic Hadiths was not a modern innova- 
tion. For centuries, Sunni scholars have dismissed a sahih Hadith in which 
the Prophet states that his father, who died before he was born, was in 
Hellfire. Although the Hadith is found in the authoritative Sahih Muslim 

* In fact, after converting to Islam a second time, he was eventually appointed 
governor of Egypt. 


collection, it is narrated through only one chain of transmission for three 
generations and thus cannot supersede the agreed-upon theological posi- 
tion that people who die in times and places unreached by prophecy cannot 
be held accountable for not embracing God's true religion. 55 


In March 2005, web traffic and media in the Muslim world convulsed with 
new controversy. Its source was unusual. Muslims in America rarely con- 
tribute to the regular flow of scandals or outrageous fatwas that provide 
standard media fodder. In New York, a collection of Muslim activists along 
with the organization had helped organize what they 
described as the 'first public Juma prayer of its kind' in the history of Islam. 
It would be led by a woman, who would deliver the Friday sermon before 
leading the congregation in prayer. 

The Manhattan prayer received premier attention in the US media. 
Motives were mixed amongthe organizers. For many, asserting a woman's 
right to lead men or a mixed-gender group in communal prayer and deliver 
a Friday sermon was a necessary step toward reclaiming Muslim women's 
parity with men and their legitimate role in Islam's public religious life. 
For the American Muslim scholar and activist who was asked to lead the 
prayer, Dr. Amina Wadud, it was the continuation of her own spiritual 
struggle to realize Islam's liberation of all people, an outgrowth of the 
African-American struggle for equality. For author and media activist 
Asra Nomani, who buzzed around the event coordinating publicity for 
an upcoming book, it was a step in her ongoing public cry for reform in 
Islam (she had some days earlier taped '99 [sic] Precepts' to the door of 
her local mosque in West Virginia). 56 

Reactions to the woman-led prayer came immediately, vehement and 
polarizing. Western Muslim supporters of's message 
applauded the act as courageous and overdue. Some Muslims in the US 
and Canada worried that, regardless of the Shariah ruling on such a prayer, 
the event would only sharpen divisions within the community without 
advancing women's rights. Ultimately, its Shariah legitimacy would hinge 
on three questions: could a woman lead a mixed congregation in prayer? If 
so, could she lead them in one of the five daily required prayers or only in 


extra prayers? Finally, could a woman lead the required Friday communal 
prayer, a duty that included giving the Friday sermon? \ 

Ulama condemned the act. From prominent American Muslim scholars 
to the towering figures of Yusuf Qaradawi and Ali Gomaa, the response was 
clear: the infallible consensus of the Umma prohibited women from lead- 
ing mixed groups in any of the required daily prayers. Moreover, a woman 
delivering the Friday sermon was inconceivable and unheard of in Islamic 
history. As Gomaa wrote in a representative fatwa, these prohibitions had 
been agreed upon by 'the people of knowledge from the four schools of 
law, nay the eight schools of law,' referring to the four Sunni schools, the 
two Shiite, the Zahiri and the Ibadi Kharijite schools." 

But even Gomaa's fatwa tacitly acknowledged the dearth of any real 
scriptural evidence against woman-led prayer. This lay behind the decision 
by the epochal Sufi sage Ibn Arabi to actually affirm women's categorical 
right to lead prayers. Ibn Arabi was no lackluster jurist and Hadith scholar, 
and he noted that none of the ulama who prohibited woman-led prayer had 
any scriptural proof (nass) to support their views. Thus, 'they should not 
be listened to.' ss Indeed, the Qur'an is silent on the question ofwoman-led 
prayer, and the only Hadith cited directly in classical and modern discus- 
sions, which quotes the Prophet as ordering, 'A woman will not lead a man 
in prayer, nor a Bedouin a townsman, nor an iniquitous man a believer,' 
has never been upheld as reliable at all. Rather, it has always been rated 
as 'weak' or even 'feeble.' 59 

Much of the verbiage on the prohibition of woman-led prayer in classical 
works of Shariah law consists of derivative arguments. Each leaves ample 
opening for objection. In a sophistic inversion of the a fortiori argument, 
Bayhaqi puts forth as his strongest evidence the tangentially related Hadith 
that 'A community that entrusts its affairs to a woman will not flourish.' 
One could object that not allowing a woman to serve as the ruler of a 
state in no way necessitates disqualifying her from the significantly lesser 
charge of leading the menin her family in a dailyprayer at home. Another 
standard argument, that women lack the spiritual and intellectual facul- 
ties to lead prayer, is dispensed with summarily by Ibn Arabi. At various 
points in history, he explains, women have been affirmed by revelation 
as leaders and bearers of prophecy. Women are, as such, no different as a 
class than men regarding the capacity to lead religious rituals. Certainly, 
specific women lack the knowledge or piety required to lead a prayer. But 
men with those failings would also not be allowed to lead prayer. Protests 


against someone unqualified leading prayer should therefore be directed 
against specific individuals, not an entire sex. 60 

Hanafi jurists denied the possibility ofwoman-led mixed prayer because 
the Prophet had supposedly commanded Muslims to 'move them (females) 
back to where God moved them' in the order of prayer lines. But they 
had to admit that this was not a Hadith at all but merely a Companion's 
opinion. Ike great Cordoban judge Ibn Rushd (best known in the West 
as the philosopher Averroes) repeats the a fortiori argument that, since 
numerous undisputed Hadiths state that women must line up behind men 
in prayer, a woman cannot conceivably be in front of them leading. 61 

But what if, as some Hanbali scholars suggested, a woman leading the 
prayers stood behind the men (admittedly, these scholars only meant this 
in the case of the optional night prayers in Ramadan)? Some ulama rightly 
objected that standing in front of the congregation was a basic require- 
ment of leading prayer. A woman would thus have to lead from in front 
of the men and could not stand behind their ranks. The guidelines for 
how various groups in the congregation line up to pray, however, do not 
necessarily apply to the prayer leader. It is agreed that slaves should pray 
behind freemen, youths behind elders, but many jurists allowed a youth 
to lead elders in prayer and most schools allowed slaves to lead prayers 
with freemen in the congregation on the basis of a report from Aisha. 62 
Why then could a woman, who would usually line up behind the men, 
not stand in the unique position of imam in front of them? 

The main reason that men do not pray behind women in Islam is easily 
understood: a woman bowing and prostrating on the floor in front of 
men, her posterior raised in the air, could hamper concentration for both 
parties. A female prayer leader, however, could be shielded by a screen: 
the Shafi'i and the Hanbali schools considered the prayer of a member of 
the congregation valid even if he was separated from the leader by a wall, 
barrier or street. What mattered was being able to hear the commands of 
the prayer. This ruling rested on sound Hadiths and lay behind the inven- 
tive argument by the traditionalist Moroccan cleric Ahmad Ghuman 
that villagers could follow a Friday prayer broadcast by radio provided 
that the imam leading the prayer was spatially somewhere between the 
village and Mecca. 53 

For many ulama, it was the homily that precedes the Friday prayer 
and the idea of a woman speaking before the crowd that proved most 
problematic. Qaradawi makes explicit the long-assumed wisdom behind 


disallowing women's public religious leadership. Seeing a woman speak 
or hearing her voice, even her recitation of the Qur'an, would excite ttye 
uncheckable male appetites in the audience and result in social strife (fitna). 
According to this logic, whether reading the Qur'an aloud in prayer or 
delivering a sermon, by speaking aloud before men a woman is essentially 
exposing part of her nudity ( 'awra) and tempting men. 

This claim falls flat, however. Two of the five daily prayers are led in 
silence. Even in the case of a woman delivering a sermon or leading a 
prayer aloud, there is nothing impermissible about hearing a woman's 
voice. Women in the Prophet's time spoke openly to unrelated men. The 
Prophet sought the counsel of women in Medina, and the Companions 
turned to his wives, like Aisha, for guidance on the proper understanding 
of their religion. Even the most conservative medieval ulama explained that 
the legal dictum A woman's voice is part of her nudity' was not literal; it 
merely conveyed the teaching in the Maliki, Hanbali and Shafi'i schools that 
it was 'discouraged' for women to raise their voices unnecessarily around 
unrelated, potentially intrigued men in public. For the Hanafi school, 
it would only apply to her voice in prayer. 64 Opponents of woman-led 
prayer or sermons might reply that women speaking in public or reciting 
the Qur'an may be permissible, but it is not necessary and thus presents a 
needless, if slight, provocation of men's desires. But the male Companions 
who learned about Islam and transmitted thousands of Hadiths from Aisha 
did not need to have direct contact with her either. They could have asked 
their sisters to act as intermediaries, for example. Necessity has never been 
part of this question. Gomaa himself notes that the Shariah has no problem 
with women reciting the Qur'an aloud in public. 65 

Aside from the questions surrounding the sermon, the specifics of 
leading the Friday prayer are otherwise moot. Leading it is no different 
than leading a regular daily prayer in the mosque. The requirement that 
the Friday preacher be male stems from the broader prohibition on women 
leading men or mixed congregations. And it is precisely this prohibition 
that the 2005 New York prayer contested. 

The appeals to consensus in the responses of Gomaa, Qaradawi and 
the many other ulama who spoke out against the Manhattan prayer also 
ring hollow. They noted, as had the prayer organizers, that the great 
tenth-century jurist Tabari (d. 923) had allowed women to lead prayer 
categorically, as had two of Shafi'i's leading students, Muzani (d. 878) and 
Abu Thawr (d. 854). We have already mentioned Ibn Arabi's position. A 


cadre of Hanbali scholars had allowed women to lead men and women in 
the optional nightly prayers in Ramadan ( Tarawih) if the women in ques- 
tion were learned in the Qur'an and all the available males ignorant (and 
also provided the woman stood out of the men's sight, behind them). 66 

This was no mean gaggle of supporters. Tabari was so respected a 
jurist in Baghdad and beyond that a madhhab formed around his teach- 
ings. Although it eventually became extinct, Tabari's madhhab flourished 
among Sunni ulama for two centuries after his death. Just decades after 
the scholar died, a leading intellectual historian of the age counted his 
school among the eight madhhabs recognized at the time. Abu Thawr also 
constituted his own madhhab, which attracted numerous adherents in 
Azerbaijan and Armenia. Muzani was one of the main disciples of Shafi'i, 
and his abridgement of Shafi'i's teachings became the basis for all later 
books of substantive law in the Shafi'i school. 

The claim of consensus made by Gomaa and others is unconvincing 
in light of this dissent. For consensus to be binding, the vast majority of 
classical Sunni legal theorists allowed no difference of opinion among the 
qualified scholars of an era, a position to which Gomaa himself subscribes. 
Making a claim of consensus when three of the most famous legal scholars 
of a generation disagreed is thus problematic. 67 Gomaa and others may 
be referring to the common Shariah principle that an early diversity of 
opinion is erased and replaced when later scholars come to consensus, but 
even this is hardly agreed upon. Even those who insist on such late-round 
consensus must recognize, as the fourteenth-century luminary of Cairo, 
Zarkashi, reminds us, that it is not the rock-solid consensus that quashes 
all objection. It is only a 'probable consensus.' More importantly, a lengthy 
roster of the greatest medieval legal theorists denied that consensus wipes 
out the dissent of earlier scholars, for their arguments remain valid, as if the 
dissenting scholar himself still sat in debate. As Shafi'i himself once said, 
'madhhabs do not die with the death of their practitioners.' 68 Dismissing 
early diversity of opinion is especially ironic today, since the restriction 
on marriage age in Egyptian law as well as a crucial argument for Shariah- 
compliant mortgages, both supported by Al-Azhar scholars for decades, 
rest on this principle. Both derived Shariah legitimacy chiefly by resus- 
citating the defunct and anomalous ancient opinions of Ibn Shubruma. 

Some of the ulama responses to the 2005 prayer reflected the weakness 
of the mainstream prohibition. While they all prohibited women leading 
public mixed-gender prayers and giving the Friday sermon, Qaradawi 


did allow a qualified woman to lead daily prayers in her own household, 
since all the men were family. Zaid Shakir, a respected African-American 
Muslim scholar and cofounder of America's first Muslim college, also 
wrote that women are allowed to lead their family in prayer if no male 
is qualified. 69 

Scriptural evidence for and against women leading prayers was slim, 
but once again Hadiths have played a determinative role. The proponents 
of women leading prayer, including the organizers, 
cited as proof the Hadith of the female Companion Umm Waraqa. In this 
Hadith, the Prophet instructs Umm Waraqa to lead her household in 
prayer, even assigning an old man to act as her muezzin and perform the 
call to prayer. Even the medieval scholars most opposed to woman-led 
prayer acknowledged that the word 'household' (dar) used in the Hadith 
should be assumed to include men and women. 70 

Much better attested than the previous Hadith banning woman-led 
prayer, the Hadith of Umm Waraqa has been deemed 'sound' (sahih) by 
respected medieval scholars such as Ibn Khuzayma and Hakim Naysaburi, 
and the ultra- conservative modern Salafi Hadith critic Albani rated it as 
'good' (hasari), the status of most Hadiths used in law. 71 In the case of Umm 
Waraqa's Hadith, the incredible detail and labyrinthine channels of Hadith 
criticism have proven crucial, as critics of woman-led prayer argue that 
the correct version of this Hadith only describes Umm Waraqa leading the 
women of her household in prayer as opposed to a mixed congregation. 

All narrations of the Hadith of Umm Waraqa pass through the eighth- 
century scholar Walid bin 'Abdallah bin Jumay'. There are two widely 
transmitted versions, both telling how the Prophet instructed Umm Waraqa 
to recite the Qur'an in her home, to lead her house in prayer and assigning 
her a muezzin (one narration emphasized how she had memorized all of 
the Qur'an revealed until that time). There is also one isolated, uncor- 
roborated transmission of the Hadith that appears only in the Sunan of the 
tenth-century Baghdad scholar Daraqutni. It includes the added phrase 
that she should lead 'the women of her home in prayer.' Daraqutni also 
includes the gender-unspecified version in his Sunan. 72 

In total, five transmitters narrated the gender-neutral version from 
Walid, with only one person passing onward the version specifying 
women only. Here the fossilization of s cholarly trends within the science 
of Sunni Hadith criticism rears its head. The change to Umm Waraqa's 
Hadith introduced by the one minority narration is a textbook example 


of a phenomenon that ulama termed the Addition of the Trustworthy 
Transmitter' {Ziyadat al-Thiqa). 

Among the founding generations of Sunni Hadith criticism during the 
ninth and tenth centuries, Hadith critics authenticated material based 
on the preponderance of evidence. After gathering all the narrations of a 
particular Hadith, the critic would select as the most reliable whichever 
one enjoyed the strongest evidence, both in terms of the raw number of 
narrations and the quality and status of the authorities who transmitted 
them. Daraqutni, the scholar in whose collection the minority version is 
preserved, stood on the cusp of a slide away from this early critical rigor. 
After him, fewer and fewer Sunni jurists acquired the expertise in Hadiths 
needed to wade into the details of authenticating reports. The Hadith study 
circles of Baghdad's mosques thinned as students flocked to the stipends 
and lodging of the newly established madrasas. They churned out ulama 
trained in the intricacies of applying law but with limited interest in Hadiths. 
Jurists wanted to increase the number and diversity of scriptural proof 
texts available to support their arguments, which made the categorical 
acceptance of any 'Addition of a Trustworthy Transmitter' attractive. By 
the mid-eleventh century this had become the norm. As a result, as long as 
the transmitter providing the version of the Hadith with an addition could 
be argued as meeting the 'trustworthy' rating, the addition was accepted. 
It became the received, authentic version of the Hadith regardless of the 
greater number or superior accuracy of contradictory narrations. In the 
case of Umm Waraqa's Hadith, jurists have used the rule of the 'Addition of 
a Trustworthy Transmitter' to advance the isolated, women-only version 
found in Daraqutni's Sunan as the only version worthy of consideration. 73 

Examined more closely, however, Umm Waraqa's Hadith should not 
fall under this rule. Daraqutni included both the majority and minority 
versions of the Hadith in his Sunan collection. Both versions come from 
Walid via his student Abu Ahmad Zubayri, a well-respected Sunni scholar 
and Hadith transmitter. The majority non-gender-specifying version is 
transmitted from Zubayri by one Ahmad bin Mansur Ramadi, while the 
solitary women-only version comes from Zubayri via Umar bin Shamma. 
These two alternative links in the chain are quite comparable to one 
another; both were very well-respected Sunni scholars lauded as being 
trustworthy narrators of Hadiths by a range of critics. Daraqutni, himself 
considered the last of the great early Hadith critics, rated both men as 
'trustworthy.' 74 


So far nothing raises alarm, but at this point the two versions of the 
Hadith diverge in a slight but crucial way. The majority version continues \ 
on via one of Daraqutni's most respected teachers, Abu Bakr Naysaburi, 
while the minority one goes through a much less well-known source used 
by Daraqutni, Abu Hasan Baghawi (d. 934). Daraqutni called Baghawi 
'trustworthy' but his praise for Naysaburi was lengthy and glowing. It 
befitted such a renowned scholar. Indeed, Abu Bakr Naysaburi was one of 
the leading Hadith scholars and Shafi'i jurists of Iraq in his day. Daraqutni 
said of him, T have never seen anyone with a better command of Hadiths.' 
More tellingly, Daraqutni expressly appreciated Naysaburi's mastery of 
'additional phrases and wording in the contents of Hadith.' 75 Baghawi, by 
contrast and ironically, is known to posterity in great part because of an 
unusual addition he made in one Hadith's chain of transmission. In fact, it 
is none other than Daraqutni who noticed this oddity. Baghawi was praised 
for his piety and even referred to as 'the Sufi,' but otherwise Daraqutni's 
mention of his flawed, isolated addition to an Isnad is all that historical 
sources noted about him. 

Rarely in Islamic legal discourse does a ruling hinge on a single datum. 
Rarely in Hadith criticism does an evalution hinge on a single comparison. 
The case of women leading prayer is thus doubly rare. With no Quranic 
verses, other Hadiths or compelling analogical evidence, one is left with 
the Hadith of Umm Waraqa in its two versions. All depends on the choice 
between them. On the one hand, there is the widely attested majority ver- 
sion of the Hadith affirmed by a master scholar renowned for his expertise 
in additions to the texts of Hadiths. On the other, there is the isolated, 
uncorroborated version vouched for by an accepted but obscure scholar 
known for little more than making an unusual addition to a Hadith. If we 
were to follow the more critically rigorous methods of the early Muslim 
Hadith scholars like Daraqutni, before they succumbed to the allure of 
maximizing evidence, the correct choice of which version of the Hadith 
to acceptwouldbe obvious atmany points in the calculation: the majority 
version. Even if we follow the later, lax methodology, which accepts the 
Addition of a Trustworthy Transmitter,' the majority version should still 
emerge victorious. Although Baghawi was rated as reliable by Daraqutni, 
he is recorded as having a questionable record in additions to Hadiths. 
It would be difficult to argue that the limited accreditation he received 
could really qualify him as reliable when addition is the question at hand. 
As a result, whatever the motivations of the Manhattan prayer organizers, 


they had some sound precedent in the Hadith of Umm Waraqa. It is not 
surprising that some of the greatest Sunni scholars of Islamic civilization's 
halcyon days came to the conclusion that a woman could lead mixed- 
gender prayers. 

Among the many controversies and fierce debates swirling inside the 
global Umma, and amid the societal tensions that entangle the unavoidable, 
hypostatized orbs of 'Western reform' and 'Islamic tradition,' the 2005 
Manhattan prayer has been one of the loudest. The reason is not hard to 
guess. The motif of the European knight/ gentleman rescuing the oppressed 
oriental maiden from her harem prison remains a well-watered one. The 
native 'oriental's' preservation of his 'authentic' tradition has sprung up 
in response. Taking the iconic example of Hindu widow self-immolation 
(satti, banned by the British in India in 1829), Gayatri Spivak notes the 
discourse that spirals destructively between the colonialist impulse of 
'white men saving brown women from brown men' and its inevitable 
epiphenomenon, the 'brown men's' response that 'the women actually 
wanted to die.' 76 

At no point has the woman's voice been heard. How can it be when 
whatever she says will either be 'delusional' (from the perspective of 
the white man) or 'selling out' (from that of the brown man)? The same 
dilemma applies to Muslim scholars opining on woman-led prayer. No 
fatwa can be neutral or claim to stand on scholarly merit alone. All is 
sucked into the black hole of contest over identity and power. From the 
British Raj to the US invasion of Afghanistan, calling for the liberation of 
oppressed 'brown women' has been a mainstay in justifying cultural or 
military imperialism. 77 As such, scholars like Gomaa and Qaradawi are 
understandably suspicious of Western Muslims trying to enlighten them. 
As with satti, whether fetishized as victims to justify condemning the 
non- Western Other or subjected to a reinforced or imagined authentic 
'tradition,' women's bodies and rights are the ground on which power is 

It is capitally naive to imagine that the Qur'an and Sunna are gender 
blind. No amount of charitable rereading can mold them to conform to 
what are touted as modern, 'universal values.' It is equally naive to assume 
that, beyond the gender roles and distinctions clearly mandated by God's 
Messenger, the patriarchal societies of the pre-modern Near East and 
South Asia in which the Shariah was elaborated added nothing else to 
the mixture. Patriarchy could bend the law to its will. Abu Hanifa had 


concluded that women did not need a male guardian's permission to marry, 
and this became the main stance on this issue in the Hanafi school. B|it 
when employing their sultanic right to pick which legal opinion to make 
state law, the Ottomans had opted for an obscure opinion from a solitary 
early Hanafi scholar who did require a woman to secure her guardian's 
approval. 78 From its dawn, Islamic law granted women full financial person- 
hood, but the wealthy women of metropolises like Damascus and Istanbul 
often had to rely on male agents to carry out their transactions. The public 
world belonged to men. Noblewomen should only leave the home for 'a 
licit necessity,' concluded a stern but representative fourteenth- century 
Cairene scholar. 79 

It is a bizarre irony of history that thephysical consigning of women to 
the private space of the home, so ubiquitous in the Shariah heritage that 
flourished with classical Islamic civilization, clashes so discordantly with 
the decidedly open and active role that the Prophet's wives and other Arab 
women played in the Arabian cradle of Islam. A woman once rose up and 
interrupted the caliph Umar while he was addressing the congregation from 
the pulpit of the Prophets' mosque. Far from silencing her, he admitted 
the mistake she had pointed out. 80 Aisha's prominence in the life of the 
Prophet and the early Muslim community, ranging from a senior bearer 
of the religion's teachings to the head of a faction in Islam's first civil war 
(whatever her regrets), cannot be denied. During the vulnerable early days 
of Muhammad's community, Umm Fadl, the wife of his uncle, killed one 
of the leading enemies of Islam in their home by crushing his skull with a 
tent pole after he beat a Muslim slave. When the Prophet was surrounded 
by enemy warriors at the Battle ofUhud, and the bulk of the Muslims had 
abandoned hope, a woman who had been tending the wounded, Nusayba 
bint Ka'b, fought beside him to guard her Prophet from sword blows and 
arrows. Later, she accompanied the Muslim campaign into central Arabia 
to avenge her fallen son, returning to Medina with twelve wounds. At the 
Battle of Yarmouk against the Byzantines, another Muslim woman, Asma' 
bint Yazid, killed nine enemy soldiers with her tent pole. 81 Umm Waraqa, 
in fact, had originally approached the Prophet because she wanted to 
die as a martyr in battle herself. But instead the Prophet instructed her 
to remain at home and lead her household, men and women, in prayer. 

Women have always been present among the ranks of the ulama, but 
their role has almost always been invisible. Of the inestimable library of 
books produced by scholars of the Shariah before the twentieth century, 


no more than a handful issue from the hands of women. As one fourteenth- 
century (male) jurist observed with more pride than disapproval, it was 
surely the Shariah's emphasis on female modesty and protecting women's 
honor that prevented them from a greater role in scholarship, though he 
notes that many of the greatest scholars would issue fatwas with their 
learned wives' or daughters' signatures attached in approval. 82 Women 
won respect as Sufi ascetics, and continue to be sought out as transmitters 
of Hadiths and the Qur'an to this day. But the urge to keep them from the 
pulpit has only grown stronger as Muslim communities and Islam's global 
religious universe feel ever more encroached upon by outsiders. Muslims 
seekinstinctively to guard a sense of authentic tradition by staking out the 
ground of women's bodies and voices. 

Clearly, woman-led, mixed- congregation prayers are not established 
practice in the Islamic tradition. But they are not unprecedented or as 
controversial as many think. The Hadith of Umm Waraqa proves that the 
Prophet commanded at least one woman to lead a mixed congregation 
in prayer. A woman-led Friday prayer, with the sermon delivered by a 
woman, is clearly a novelty. But none of the ulama's objections to it rest 
on any firm, direct scriptural evidence, and solutions exist to the concerns 
they raise. Muslims today thus find themselves faced with a question: in 
the absence of opposing evidence from scripture, does simply adhering 
to how things have always been done justify denying half of the popula- 
tion the right to public religious leadership? It is revealingly plain that if 
this issue did not involve the knot of gender and power, the evidence for 
permitting it would carry the day without controversy. 

That fact casts light on a dark and unworthy place in the male con- 
science. A humbling reminder of this is found in the life of Ibn Taymiyya, 
a learned and conservative Hanbali don but also an iconoclast unintimi- 
dated by mainstream censure. He used to admit how impressed he was 
by one Fatima bint Abbas (d. 1315), a female Hanbali scholar who had 
mastered the greatest works of law and took to the pulpits of Damascus 
mosques to harangue and inspire a sinful public with her preaching. 
Despite his respect for her, Ibn Taymiyya recalled that he had marked 
reservations about her speaking in the mosque pulpit. He intended to 
put a stop to it. Then the Prophet came to him in a dream. 'This is a 
righteous woman,' the Messenger of God counseled him. The inimitable 
scholar, who had stood unperturbed before sultans and had smashed 
idols, held his tongue. 83 



Casting off tradition altogether has been a common theme in the calls of 
Muslim Martin Luthers for over a century. A response has been the emer- 
gence of an Islamic modernist school of thought often dubbed the 'Qur'an 
Only' movement. In Egypt, Tawfiq Sidqi had argued for understanding 
Islam through the Qur'an alone, calling himself 'one of the Qur'anists,' but 
he quickly recanted. His contemporaries in British India fared better. A 
movement known as the Partisans of the Qur'an (Ahl-e Quran) emerged 
in literary salons and new Urdu-language journals from the 1890s onward. 
Centeredparticularly in the Punjab region of North India, several genera- 
tions of Indian Muslim intellectuals, many educated in missionary schools, 
became disillusioned with Hadiths after coming across reports like that of 
the Hadith of the Fly or the Devil Farting. 

The Partisans of the Qur'an movement was exemplified by intellec- 
tuals such as Ahmad Din Amritsari, Mistri Muhammad Ramadan and, 
most famously, the senior Pakistani civil servant Ghulam Ahmad Parwez 
(d. 1985) and his 'Tulu-e Islam' (Islamic Dawn) organization. The early 
articulators of the Partisans of the Qur'an argued that the details of how 
to perform daily prayers and other basics of Islamic law could actually 
be derived from the Qur'an without recourse to the Hadiths. These 
derivations involved extremely tenuous gymnastics, and later figures like 
Parwez abandoned the idea of a comprehensive Shariah in favor of a 
pared-down version. Muslims were only intended to conform their lives 
to the basic 'moral law' in the Qur'an, grasped and applied by reason. 
Like Sidqi, they believed that the Hadith corpus was fatally unreliable 
and that the Sunna could thus not be normative. Parwez and other 
like-minded authors penned voluminous commentaries on the Qur'an 
based on the central principle that the sacred text was a self-contained 
missive that could be understood without external supplements, with 
even its odd or ambiguous verses explained by reference to other parts 
of the book. 

Descended from the Indian reformist movement of Sir Sayyid Ahmad 
Khan, the Partisans of the Qur'an ultimately sought to create a religious and 
cultural space for the South Asian Muslim elite, produced and employed 
by the infrastructure of British rule. Defined more by their erstwhile role 
as the comprador to the colonial power than by wealth, more a cultural 
group than a class, this elite body both opposed the complete integration 


of an imported Western identity and also deeply disliked the traditional 
extremely conservative Islam controlled and propagated by the ulama 
Parwez's Islamic Dawn movement resonated among Pakistan's bureau- 
cratic and military elite. For Parwez and his followers, the Qur'an brought 
a message that was rational (miracles were metaphors, angels were forces 
of nature), 'civilized' (Hudud punishments were meant as mere ceilings 
for punishment, which should normally be proportional to the crime) 
and spiritually fulfilling. It preached above all an orientation toward God 
and a moral law (monogamy was ideal, and men and women were equal, 
though the latter's proper place was in the home). The principles of this 
moral law were contained entirely in the holy Qur'an: freedom, tolerance, 
justice, responsibility and the limiting of sex to marriage. 84 The ritual pil- 
lars of Islam, like prayer and fasting, were passed on from generation to 
generation by living practice. The obscurantist corpus of Hadiths and the 
Sunna more broadly were manifestations of man's constant urge to trammel 
God's liberating message with human custom and desire for control. The 
Sunna was the symptom of a disease that metastasized into the barbaric 
ulama and their backward clericalism. 

Parwez's thought has never attracted a popular following. A pro duct of 
a sociocultural group stranded by the end of empire, the general message 
of Parwez and the Partisans of the Qur'an has had a marked and lasting, if 
circumscribed, influence on the Pakistani upper class. It has also carried 
disproportionate influence in Pakistani law. When the country's Federal 
Shariat Court decided in 1981 that stoning could not be required as an 
Islamic punishment, two of the judges in the majority based their argu- 
ments on Parwez's ideas as well as those of Abu Rayya. 85 

Pakistan produced a more ingenious Islamic thinker in Fazlur Rahman 
(d. 1988), who in 1968 was forced to flee his country due to contro- 
versies about his writings and eventually settled as a professor at the 
University of Chicago. He articulated a newvision for reading the Qur'an 
and understanding the Sunna that would echo among Islamic modernists 
for decades, one that rejected the classical Sunni (and Shiite) assump- 
tion that an authoritative reading of the Qur'an and its teachings had 
been locked in place by the rules and practices of an idealized prophetic 

Like the Partisans of the Qur'an, Rahman accepted the conclusions 
advanced by Western historians: the Hadiths were historically unreliable 
and largely forgeries. But Rahman did not conclude that the Sunna was 


invalid or unnecessary. Instead, he redefined it. The Sunna was never sup- 
posed to be fixed rulings transmitted from the Prophet. It was a moving 
frontier, the constantly evolving effort of Muslim scholars to apply the 
message of the Qur'an to the challenges of human life and society. The 
forgery of Hadiths had not been an act of intentional deception on the 
part of the ulama. Rather, they had put their own legal or doctrinal rulings 
into the mouth of their Prophet because they were acting as the living 
implementers of his authority, speaking with his voice. It was only the 
excessive textualist zeal of the early Sunnis, such as Shafi'i, that petrified 
this living and adaptable Sunna by setting it down in unchanging Hadiths 
in authoritative collections. Rahman's solution was that the Hadith corpus 
needed to be re-examined critically according to modern historical criti- 
cism. Once this was done, Muslims could pickup where the earliest Muslim 
scholars had left off when the Sunna was frozen in the ninth century. They 
could redefine the Sunna: 'whose very life blood was free and progressive 
interpretation.' 86 

For understanding the core message of Islam, Rahman turned to the 
Qur'an. Instead of reading the book verse by verse, each section locked 
within the interpretation of the Hadiths and 'occasions of revelation,' the 
Qur'an should be read as a unified whole. It is its own best commentary. 
Today Muslims must understand the intent behind Qur'anic verses and 
the commands they issue. The Qur'an was revealed at various moments in 
the Prophet's career to address specific historical realities. What modern 
Muslims must do is undertake a 'double movement' in which they first 
identify the moral reason or ethical goal behind a Qur'anic verse, and then 
see how that intent and goal should be realized in the present day. The 
Shariah was not supposed to be a set of unchanging rulings. It must be 
redefined in changing times to accomplish the basic message of the Qur'an, 
namely 'socioeconomic justice and essential human egalitarianism.' 87 

Rahman's theories have been echoed prolixly by a number of Muslim 
intellectuals contributing to the genre of postmodernist textual analysis. In 
a series of dense tomes, the late Egyptian literary scholar Nasr Hamid Abu 
Zayd and the Syrian engineer and solo intellectual Muhammad Shahrur 
have proved to be two of the most controversial and widely published 
advocates of the Qur'an Only approach. They build their calls for reform 
on the precept that neither language nor texts have fixed meaning but are 
instead constantly redefined through the act of communication between 
text, context and reader. 


For Abu Zayd, this meant that trying to force the Qur'an literally onto 
the landscape of modern life and thought breaks the original unity between 
the revelation and its pre-Islamic Arabian context, effectively imprison- 
ing the holy book with faulty expectations of timelessness. By fixing the 
interpretation of the Qur'an with the forged shackles of Hadiths, classical 
Muslim scholars made it anachronistic and inapplicable in any future world 
To repair this, modern Muslims must liberate the Qur'an by historicizing 
it and reading it within its original context, using reason and the book's 
linguistic content to comprehend the lofty principles it originally advanced. 
Only then can we determine which aspects of its message are specific to 
its original audience and which can be generalized and applied to later 
contexts. These latter aspects form the core, eternal message of the Qur'an. 
Since no group of readers can claim that their reading of a text is any more 
inspired or authoritative than any other group's, Abu Zayd concluded that 
all readings of the Qur'an are equally human. The interpretation of God's 
message among the early Muslim community, which served as the founda- 
tion of the Shariah, was no exception. The Shariah was thus 'a man-made 
production' with 'nothing divine about it.' Its specific rules and references 
do not deserve the sacred authority claimed by the ulama. What Muslims 
need today is a 'democratic and open hermeneutics,' asserted Abu Zayd, 
which relies on reason to read the Qur'an. 88 

The Qur'an Only trend has sprung up in the work of individual scholars 
and local journals from Arizona to Cape Town. It has had strong influence 
in Turkey, where it has found a degree of acceptance in the country's 
secularized public sphere. Although it has not generated an organized reli- 
gious movement, public intellectuals like the preacher Mustafa Islamoglu 
and the former theology professor and one-time Turkish parliament 
member Ya§ar Nuri Oztiirk have produced popular Turkish translations 
of the Qur'an strongly informed by the Qur'an Only ethos . The approach's 
most productive advocate in recent years has been a Turkish-American 
community college professor in Arizona named Edip Yiiksel. Along with 
several like-minded colleagues, Yiiksel has published a translation of the 
Qur'an, The Quran: A Reformist Translation (201 1). They promise a 'non- 
sexist' rendering that relies only on 'logic and the language of the Qur'an 
itself,' eschewing the 'all-male scholarly and political hierarchies' that 
are expressed in the Hadiths. 89 When confronted with unique or bizarre 
Qur'anic phrases, Yuksel's translation cleverly scans the meaning of other 
words in the Qur'an derived from the same Arabic root to approximate a 


translation. Instead of turning to Hadiths or the Tafsir tradition to explain 
otherwise ambiguous references in the Qur'an, the Reformist Translation \ 
leaves them - honestly - unexplained. Elsewhere, Yiiksel and his team 
interpret liberally in the tradition-less vacuum. The Qur'an's declaration 
'Indeed We have sent it down on the Night of Power' is explained uniformly 
by the Tafsir literature as describing the night on which the Qur'an was 
first revealed. By Yiiksel's guess (he renders it 'Night of Decree'), it refers 
arbitrarily to the night that comes in the life of 'every appreciative person' 
in which 'they decide to dedicate themselves to God alone by fully using 
their intellectual faculties.' 


Spinoza did not believe for a moment the rabbis' claim to command a 
tradition with an unbroken chain back to Moses, or the Pope's contention 
that inspired Apostolic succession guaranteed the Church's teachings. He 
called for a reading of the Bible that looked only at what the text 'said,' 
not what its generations of rabbinical interpreters claimed it meant when 
decoded through the prism of tradition. The revolutionary thinker quickly 
ran up against the limits of his own mission, however. Even if he could 
cast off the tradition of the Oral Torah that the rabbis had foisted upon 
the text, he could not rid himself of the language in which it had been 
written. How could one read the Hebrew Bible free of tradition when the 
very grammar and lexicon of biblical Hebrew itself had been defined and 
passed down by the same rabbis? The archaic language was a heritage of 
the past and was subject to all the same historical skepticism as rabbinic 
tradition. Though he submitted that changing the meaning of words is 
much harder than altering religious teachings, Spinoza had to admit that 
even biblical Hebrew was under the power of the rabbis. Just like Arabic, 
the Hebrew script was incomplete (lacking short vowels) and its early 
grammar fluid. One had to know what it meant to read it. Even the mean- 
ings of many biblical words were known only through the teachings of the 
rabbis. Because Spinoza was committed to a method of interpreting the 
Bible that drew on the Bible alone, he had to accept that if the text did 
not yield clear answers on its own, 'we must simply give up' on the point 
in question. Ultimately, core matters necessary for salvation and happi- 
ness would be clear, since Spinoza believed they were universal anyway 90 


Qur'an Only intellectuals like Parwez had 'given up' on the earlier 
Partisans of the Qur'an attempts to preserve the detailed Shariah. Neither 
the specifics of prayer nor any real comprehensive body oflaw was possible 
without Hadiths and the tradition borne by the ulama. Even after disposing 
of this burden, one unacknowledged obstacle remained insuperable. With 
its archaic language and elliptical style, the Qur'an is either inaccessible 
or incomprehensible outside of its context. Parwez and the Partisans of 
the Qur'an believed that the Sunna was unnecessary and insufficiently 
reliable for elaborating Islamic law and theology, but Parwez nonetheless 
draws on the details provided by Hadiths to describe the Prophet's model 
of marriage to Khadija and many other aspects of his life. He also needs 
to refer to detailed events in Medina in order to understand the elliptical 
references in the holy book. 91 In the same way, Rahman's and Abu Zayd's 
proposed methodologies for understanding the Qur'an's ethical message 
are also premised on being able to grasp in detail the historical realities of 
Medina in the Prophet's time. 

The rub is that those historical particularities were recorded by the 
same Muslim scholars via the same chains of transmission and affirmed 
by the same overall critical method as the Hadiths that these modernist 
intellectuals dismissed as forgeries. Of the Islamic modernist school of 
thought, Rahman retains the strongest attachment to the tradition of the 
Sunna, acknowledging that calling for a complete rejection of all Hadiths 
would be tantamount to burning down Islam's entire structure, leaving 
'a yawning chasm of fourteen centuries between us and the Prophet' 
and making interpretation of the Qur'an impossible. He only wishes 
for a critical re-examination of the Hadith corpus and the details of the 
Shariah, not a rejection of the pillars of Islamic faith and practice. In fact, 
he insists that these pillars have been preserved in the living tradition of 
the Muslim community. Yet Rahman himself admits the lack of a clear 
demarcation between the body of fossilizing Hadiths he believes were 
forged and those authentic ones communicating central concepts of the 
Shariah or preserving the necessary context for reading the Qur'an. There 
is no way to prove that these had not also been forged. At times, it seems 
as if Rahman's skepticism is restrained not by methodology but by a sen- 
timental unwillingness to sacrifice the core of his religion. 92 

Yiiksel's Reformist Translation of the Qur'an makes a more consist- 
ent break with the past. When faced with the lexical rarities and ellipti- 
cal references of the holy book, the Reformist Translation just renders 


them literally or offers footnotes with suggested interpretations. But, like 
Rahman and Abu Zayd, this work still relies on the complex description of \ 
Arabian religion, law and society that the ulama produced as part of their 
exegesis of God's message. Points where Spinoza might have called for 
'giving up,' the Reformist Translation is seduced into a disguised reliance 
on the tradition it claims not to need. A set of Qur'anic verses enshrining 
the idiosyncratic Arabic custom of Zihaar is a fine example. It is singularly 
impenetrable and yields coherent meaning only if placed against its ancient 
backdrop. Defined by Hadiths as a man renouncing his wife by declaring 
'You are like the back (zahr) of my mother to me,' Zihaar was a form of 
pre-Islamic unilateral divorce. Yiiksel renders the standard understanding 
of these verses, in which the Qur'an rejects the validity of the practice: 
'Nor did He make your wives whom you estrange to be as your mothers...' 
(33:4, also 58:3-4). This use of the verb zaahara, however, is unique. It 
appears nowhere else in the Qur'an. In all other instances in the text, the 
verb means 'to offer aid or assistance' (33:26, 60:9, 9:4). By the Reformist 
Translations stated methodology, the verse should be read, awkwardly 
if at all, 'He did not make your wives to whom you granted aid from as 
your mothers...' 

Oddly, the Reformist Translation never cites its lexical or grammatical 
sources for translating the Qur'an's archaic Arabic (it makes one desultory 
reference to the famous fourteenth-century Lisan al-'Arab dictionary of Ibn 
Manzur). Yet the association oiZihaarwixh 'estrangement from one's wife 
by declaring her like one's mother' comes only from the classical Arabic 
dictionaries compiled by the ulama. They note this rare usage as coming 
only from this Qur'anic context, which is explained by Tafsir reports trans- 
mitted from scholarly forefathers of the early eighth century, like Mujahid 
bin Jabr and Qatada bin Di'ama, and recorded in exactly the same works 
and by exactly the same authors as composed the Hadith corpus. 93 

The Qur'an Only approach is, in the end, not a solution to the prison 
of tradition. It is only a selective reliance on it. None of these intellectuals 
has achieved a systematic break with the past or reread the Qur'an apart 
from it. This may well be impossible. Deeply anticlerical, inspired by the 
Mutazila rationalists of the ninth century and committed to broad Qur'anic 
principles rather than a concrete and detailed Shariah, the general Qur'an 
Only trend is an expression of a desire for an Islam compliant with modern 
rationalism and Western sensibilities. It is the product of how a particular 
segment of society wants religion to be. 



The religious instruction offered by Egyptian cab drivers comes gladly and 
free of charge. In the decades of stasis that preceded the Egyptian revolu- 
tion, foreign passengers could also expect spirited testimonials about the 
confessional harmony that reigned between Muslims and Egypt's Coptic 
Christian minority. 'We are all brothers. There are no problems between 
us,' was a predictable refrain. A neighbor has rights, you see, whatever 
their religion.' One driver delved into unusual detail as he peeled through 
the streets of Mubarak's Cairo. "The Messenger of God, peace be upon 
him, taught that a neighbor who is Muslim and your relative has three 
rights: the right of Islam, the right of family and the right of a neighbor. 
A neighbor who is a relative and not Muslim has two rights:' the right of 
family and the right of a neighbor. A neighbor who is not Muslim and not 
family still has one right: the right of a neighbor. You sec?"' 4 

After Mubarak's fall, routine bromides would no longer suffice. 
Communal tensions broke to the surface with unusual virulence. In 
December 2011, a year into Egypt's dangerous but exhilarating 'transi- 
tion,' Shaykh Yasir Burhami was awoken in his Alexandria apartment by 
an assistant. 95 The leading Salafi scholar was being attacked on the popular 
evening talk show, Egypt Chooses, by one of the studio guests, a Coptic 
priest who accused him of inciting hatred against Christians. Specifically, 
the priest lambasted Burhami for instructing his followers 'not to love' 
Christians and for referring to them as unbelievers. This had become 
a leitmotif on Egyptian television during the previous months, with a 
number of prominent Salafi scholars taking to the air on the many Salafi 
satellite channels to deliver expositions on interfaith relations or appearing 
as guests on workhorse talk shows to respond to callers outraged by Salafi 
sound bites, many of them Copts or 'librali Muslims. A recurring point of 
contention was Islam's implied intolerance, often illustrated by referencing 
the Qur'anic verse commonly translated as, '0 you who believe, do not 
take Jews or Christians as friends; they are but friends of each other, and 
whosoever takes them as friends he is one of them...' (5:51). 96 

Calling in to defend himself, Burhami explained on air that anybody 
who opened the Qur'an would see immediately that those who reject 
Muhammad's prophethood, let alone those who believe in the divinity 
of Jesus, are indeed branded as 'unbelievers' (kuffar). But this did not 
entail that Muslims should harm them or even disrespect them. 'God does 


not forbid you from dealing kindly and fairly with those who have not 
fought you in your religion or driven you from your homes,' counsels the \ 
Quran (60:9). Differences in belief should not be glossed over, Burhami 
continued, but Muslims had been commanded to treat others with polite- 
ness and compassion even if they did not share their faith. Another studio 
guest, the avuncular septuagenarian Kamal Hilbawi, who had served as 
the Muslim Brotherhood's spokesman in Europe during an exile in Britain, 
spoke up to assist. The great medieval scholar Ibn Qudama, he explained, 
had written that a Muslim must grant neighbors their rights whether they 
are Muslim or not. The Prophet had explained this clearly in Hadiths. 97 

Medieval ulama had indeed elaborated at great length on the definition 
of 'neighbor' and the precise rights that a neighbor enjoyed. The Hadith 
that Hilbawi and, eight centuries earlier, Ibn Qudama had relied on lays 
them out: 

The Messenger of God said: The rights of a neighbor are that, if he 
falls sick you visit him, if he dies you follow his funeral procession, 
if he asks you for a loan you lend to him, if he is in need you assist 
him, if good befalls him you congratulate him, if misfortune befalls 
him you console him, that you not build your house up above his, 
blocking out the breeze, and that you not afflict him with the aroma 
of your cooking pot without offering him some. 98 

The definition of neighbor varied, but in all cases it extended far beyond 
those living immediately next door and attached no importance to reli- 
gious identity. One definition, reported from Aisha, defines a neighbor as 
anyone living within forty houses in every direction. Ali explained that a 
neighbor is anyone who hears the call to prayer from the same mosque, 
including Muslims and non-Muslims of all sorts. 99 

The tension on display that evening on Egypt Chooses resulted from the 
disconnect between two competing discourses on national identity and 
social cohesion. The host of the show, his Coptic guest and the concerned 
callers subscribed to a secular, nationalist conception of society in which 
cohesion and comity were phrased in the idiom of a love that transcended 
confessional bounds. This school of Egyptian-ness, upheld by the state 
since the early twentieth century, coalesced out of the milieu of French 
nationalism. It was informed by ideals like Rousseau's Civil Religion, an 
expectation that faiths should prohibit intolerance ('It is impossible to live 


at peace with those we regard as damned/ Rousseau wrote). This ideal of a 
unified Egyptian nation was infused with the influential Progressivism of 
Auguste Comte, in which a rational and ordered society was held together 
by 'universal love.' 10C The nation state was bonded and propelled by love 
of itself and fraternity among its citizens, and religions must be stripped 
of confessional thorns. 

National unity had to be cultivated on an emotional level for its reality 
to be achieved and preserved. When Burhami explained on air that 'love' 
was unrelated to external actions and that Muslims could 'hate' a Christian 
for their heretical beliefs yet still treat them with kindness, the Coptic priest 
exclaimed, "That's a contradiction!' A French nationalist ideologue could 
not have agreed more. The contrasting vision proposed by Burhami was 
an Islamic nationalism and a Shariah conception of polity: an Ottoman 
realm of confessional pluralism with no secular 'national' destiny in sight. 
Its citizens moved and interacted in an order of regimented rights and 
obligations on which abstract emotions like love and a belief in the salvific 
validity of all faiths had no effect. 

The most influential Egyptian Salafi shaykh, Burhami and other con- 
servative Islamists regularly expressed this social vision in writings and 
sermons, particularly on the infamous topic of wala'wa bara, or 'loyalty' to 
Muslims and 'disavowal' of unbelievers. They pointed out that considering 
non-Muslims 'unbelievers' had little effect on the routine interactions that 
make up daily life. Muslims can buy from, sell to and engage in business 
partnerships with non-Muslims. They can seek the aid of non-Muslim spe- 
cialists in mundane matters such as doctor's visits and in dramatic matters 
like warfare. OnEgypt Chooses, Burhami proudly recounted to his Coptic 
accuser and the show's viewers that, during the chaos of January 2011, 
Salafis in Alexandria had protected a local church when the police had 
vanished. Salafi scholars were particularly fond of the Hadith recounting 
how the Prophet even let a delegation of Christians perform their prayers 
in his mosque in Medina. 101 

Unfortunately for Burhami, the alarm generated by Qur'anic verses 
and Hadiths on interfaith relations had long ago overflowed all efforts 
to contain it. As a Somali refugee newly settled in the Netherlands, 
Ayaan Hirsi Ali (an avid Spinoza admirer) had 'picked up the Qur'an' 
and found in it verses such as 'do not take the Jews and Christians 
as friends' (her translation). They convinced her that the terrorism of 
Al-Qaeda was not unrelated to Islam, In truth, it was only a symptom 


of the hostility and religious intolerance explicit in Islam's holy book. 102 
In the Arab world, the fevered airtime devoted to Islamists responding 
to concerns about this verse from the public or offering prophylactic 
lessons on it illustrates the dangerous friction between the verse and 
many segments of society. 

Read through the lens of the Hadiths, Tafsir reports and biographies of 
the Prophet that constituted the first layers of Islam's tradition, however, 
this verse was easily explained and misunderstandings easily defused. The 
word commonly misunderstood in modern colloquial Arabic and by Hirsi 
Ali as 'friends' (awliya') actually meant 'patrons' or those to whom one 
has some commitment, either as a protector or a subordinate. The verse 
thus warns Muslims against taking the side of unbelievers against fellow 
Muslims in conflicts, since these other groups 'are but allies of themselves,' 
the Qur'an explains. 

The basic lexical disconnect between modern native Arabic speakers 
and the ancient text of the Qur'an poses a serious challenge to the post- 
modernist school of Qur'anic interpretation, which subjects the text to the 
authority of the reader, the changing landscape of epistemological eras and 
discourse communities. Abu Zayd dismissed the Shariah as an obsolete 
human creation and called for 'a democratic and open hermeneutics' to 
read the Qur'an. Was not the new, (mis)understanding of 'friends' in the 
above Qur'anic verse an example of democratic interpretation in action? 
Abu Zayd had objected to Islamists like Sayyid Qutb dumping raw Qur'anic 
discourse onto the twentieth century, acting as if the Qur'an speaks for 
itself and directly to us, ignoring the chasm of language and context that 
separates us from seventh-century Arabia. 103 Ironically, in his criticism of 
Qutb, Abu Zayd becomes a great defender of tradition. The interpretive 
mediation that he faults Qutb and conservative Islamists for missing is 
precisely what tradition provides. Whether performed by docile state 
ulama in Al-Azhar or outsider Islamist scholars like Burhami, the mediation 
between scripture and society that Abu Zayd called for is none other than 
the tradition he accused of retarding Muslim society. Abu Zayd, in fact, 
praised tradition. The Qur'an's many commands to fight the Arab poly- 
theists until they embraced Islam were the products of a context in which 
these 'unbelievers' posed an existential threat to Muhammad's new religion. 
From the time of the Companions onward, Abu Zayd observed, the classical 
ulama had understood this. As the immediate danger faded amid Muslim 
military triumph, the ulama immediately admitted Zoroastrian dualists 


and the polytheist pagans of India as protected 'People of the Book' with 
the right to practice their religions freely. 

According to the critiques launched by Abu Zayd and a legion of other 
Islamic modernists, the descendants of these medieval ulama, today's 
bearers of tradition, have lost the ability to apply the message of Islam to 
new situations. Instead they have reified and paralyzed Islamic interpret 
tation. Whereas their more dynamic and capable predecessors would be 
calling for religious equality in today's world, asserted Abu Zayd, modern 
conservative ulama threaten to level the jizya tax on Egypt's Christians. 104 
Abu Zayd's disappointment with the ulama was therefore not ultimately a 
disapproval of tradition per se. It was a disapproval of how the traditional 
ulama understood Islam and the Shariah at the turn of the twenty-first 

This same fundamental disagreement over the proper conception of 
religion has been clearly exhibited in Egypt since the 201 1 revolution, as 
have the awkward and resentful steps that 'Islamists' and 'liberals' have 
taken toward the fragile possibility of a shared future. The liberal television 
host Wael Abrashi channeled this angst in an interview with Burhami seven 
months after Mubarak's fall, the conversation lightened by the Egyptian 
humor that bubbles up even in the most contentious moments. Would the 
newly empowered Salafis push for levying the jizya on Christians, pro- 
hibit them from positions of authority or destroy public statues, Abrashi 
asked? Burhami tried to reassure the journalist. The jizya was only one 
of numerous options that the Prophet had employed in his relation with 
Christian subjects, and these other issues would be discussed with the 
broader political community and consensus sought. 105 

Hannah Arendt's diagnosis of crisis in the West could be applied 
equally well (mutatis mutandis) to Egypt and much of the Islamic world, 
hi the West, for centuries the present was made sense of and the future 
imagined through the language and conceptual vocabulary of the tradition 
that was born and reigned in the shadow of Rome. 'That this tradition 
has worn thinner and thinner as the modern age progressed is a secret 
to nobody,' Arendt wrote. Eventually the thread broke, and what had 
previously been the bookish interest of intellectuals alone then 'became 
a tangible reality and perplexity for all.' It became a political dilemma. 106 
The loss of tradition had become political because, phrased differently, 
if the accepted framework around a discussion is removed, any claim 
that then assumes the presence of a framework is in actuality imposing 


it. This act is of political consequence in that it seeks to compel. And it 
is sure to be contested. \ 

The universal 'Reason' touted by Western naturalTaw philosophers 
was an early casualty of the snapping of tradition's last threads. Born in 
the rubble of postmodernity, contemporary critics of liberalism note that 
Reason cannot be the judge that rules impartially from outside discourse. 
It is part of the discourse, and any transcendent throne claimed for it is a 
stealthy grab forpower. Stanley Fish observed that Reason(s) 'always come 
from somewhere,' and it is clear that once you have stepped outside of a 
tradition or leveled its authority, you cannot in fairness invoke 'Reason' 
without admitting its aims and assumptions and convincing others to 
accept them - precisely the unifying role that tradition used to perform. 107 

New, post-tradition frameworks for Reason in the West sometimes 
surface. But more often they are vestigial, with Reason wandering through 
discourse like an orphan imposing itself far and wide with a deluded sense 
of independence but knowing only what it learned in its ancestral home. 
In liberal discourse it is now axiomatic that sex is acceptable as long as it 
occurs between consenting adults. Yet even among segments of Western 
societies that embrace same-sex marriage, polygamy is still considered 
repugnant, as are other sexual relationships. Even the pro-gay rights 
liberals of New York web sardonics reacted with shock and disgust to an 
American advice columnist who, true to the new framework principle 
that harmless sex between consenting adults should be licit, approved of 
the sexual relationship between identical twin brothers. 108 

Western demands that other people act 'reasonably' because that is 
what 'reasonable people' should do still smell of British colonial efforts 
to bring native customs into accord with 'good conscience.' Especially 
in its avatar of 'common sense,' Reason in global discourse today carries 
its ancestry barely concealed: the early modern British ideal of unifying, 
upper-middle-class values, a relaxed but assumed Anglo-Saxon Christian 
temperament, French anticlericalism and Jefferson's democracy-justifying 
yeoman wisdom. 109 Muslim protests over French cartoons mocking the 
Prophet in 2011 were rebuffed in the West with indignant referrals to 
the freedom of expression, a right self-evident to those possessed of 
'Reason' and 'common sense.' Ayear earlier, however, the UK's Advertising 
Standards Authority had banned an advert featuring a pregnant nun as a 
'serious offense' to Catholics. 110 A young Egyptian web entrepreneur and 
self-proclaimed 'liberal' advocating the motto, 'You are free aslongasyou 


do no harm' betrayed the cultural boundaries of his own Reason. Discussing 
freedom of expression in a talk-show dialogue with a conservative Sufi 
shaykh, he immediately agreed that, 'of course, insulting Muhammad 
could not be allowed. It harms his followers.' 

Yet 'Reason' was precisely the hermeneutic lens through which Abu 
Zayd called for a new democratic and open interpretation of the Qur'an. 
Speaking at a university in Washington, D.C. in the late 1990s, Abu Zayd 
devoted his entire lecture to recounting recent fatwas issued by Egyptian 
ulama. 'Can I undress in front of my dog?' one woman had asked. Yes 
though it is preferable not to if it is a male dog. Abu Zayd knew well that, 
for his audience, these were 'unreasonable' and laughable manifestations 
of religion. And laugh the audience did. Indeed, for many in Abu Zayd's 
native Egypt such fatwas are enraging as well. This is not only true for many 
upper- and upper-middle-class Egyptians, who reject unanimous positions 
of the Shariah tradition such as the requirement that women cover their 
hair. It also applies for many conservative, observant Muslims born out of 
the post- 1960s Muslim Brotherhood awakening, who often view the ulama 
of Al-Azhar as disappointments politically and such fatwas as encouraging 
'great superficiality and the annulment of reason.' 111 

But taken out of these milieux, what was really so 'unreasonable' in 
the fatwa mocked by Abu Zayd? The scholar issuing it had not solicited 
the question any more than the advice columnist had with the Gemini 
lovers, nor did he impose any requirement on the woman asking it or 
constrain her freedom in any way. His fatwa was confined to the 'recom- 
mended' grade of Shariah rulings. The fatwa's only fault is that it applied 
religion where some do not approve. But if it is 'unreasonable' that religion 
should be brought to bear on such banal matters, then Islam's guilt runs 
far deeper than some modern stagnation. As far back in Islamic history 
as textual evidence can take us, the ulama envisioned the Shariah as a 
total and comprehensive system that could and should assign a ruling to 
any conceivable act. Moreover, if twin-brother gay lovers are seeking the 
public assistance of advice columnists about broader public approval, it is 
impossible to know the potential utility of even the most seemingly absurd 
speculations. Especially in the Hanafi school of law, hypothetical casuistry 
was always seen as an important exercise in legal reasoning. Even in the 
medieval era, some jurists were mocked by others for hypotheticals that 
were 'impossible,' like the question 'Can a person pray holding a bag full 
of flatus?' (i.e., does it violate the person's state of ritual purity). 112 Today 


Muslim scholars are faced with the very real and traumatic question of 
how individuals with colostomy bags should negotiate the requirements 
of the ritual purity needed to pray. Who can predict what future use the 
fatwa that Abu Zayd mocked might have? 


Martin Luther was never as contemptuous of Catholic Traditio as his oppo- 
nents liked to believe. He was as mortified by the Anabaptist Kingdom of 
Minister as any Catholic, and he understood well that flocks need shep- 
herds. Touring the German parishes where his reading of the gospel was 
being taught, Luther was grieved by the ignorance he encountered. He 
penned a pair of catechisms to set out clearly Christ's teachings and to guide 
folk in their reading of the Bible (newly translated into German by Luther 
himself ). He was further troubled by the arrogance of many who claimed 
that, since the scriptures were now easily accessible, there was no further 
need for pastors or preachers. There is some irony in the predictability 
of his subsequent plea. Pastors and nobles alike must not 'imagine that 
they know everything,' Luther upbraided, but should continuously study 
his Large Catechism, which was 'a summary of all the holy scriptures.' 1 13 
Appointed Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shaykh Ali Gomaa compiled a short 
collection of fatwas that resembled a modern catechism: Elucidating 
What's Troubling Peoples Minds. The fatwas were clear, efficient responses 
to questions that commonly vexed Muslims in Egypt, and the book was 
printed in cheap, pocket-sized paperback form. Gomaa was the state official 
charged as the contemporary voice of the living tradition through which 
the present interfaces with the authoritative sources of religion. Before his 
appointment, clerics-in-training and engaged laymen had long flocked to 
his lessons in the Al-Azhar Mosque because he helped them understand 
their religion in the present, because he inspired them by blending the 
longed-for authenticity of the past into the unavoidable demands of the 
modern day. Though appointed by the Mubarak regime, Gomaa was not at 
heart a political operator. But in the tradition-imperiled space of Egypt's 
public life, his rulings were inevitably political. No, bank interest was not 
prohibited, because fiat currency has no inherent value and cannot be 
subject to the rulings of Riba. Conventional banks applauded. Almost 


all specialists in the Islamic finance industry expressed shock. Yes the 
Prophet Muhammad will marry the Virgin Mary in Heaven, on the basis 
of a sound Hadith that states this. Coptic representatives were outraged 
Muslims were surprised to know the Hadith existed. 114 When the protests 
against Mubarak intensified in 2011, Gomaa called on Egyptians to stay 
home. He was roundly excoriated for not supporting the revolution. When 
the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of Egypt's first democratically 
elected president formed sit-ins to protest the military coup that ousted 
him in 2013, Gomaa called on them to go home as weli. Again, he was 
concerned for their safety. Many Egyptians cheered him. Many were 
disgusted. Like centuries of Sunni ulama before him, Gomaa supported 
military strongmen because stability was all that mattered, the sine qua 
non of religious life. 

Many of the fatwas included in Gomaa's booklet enjoyed unanimous 
support among the ulama across the ideological spectrum, from supple 
Sufis to conservative Salafis, and even the population at large. No, women 
could not lead Friday prayers, and acting on the anomalous opinions of 
classical scholars who allowed it was to insult the Umma 'of early and latter 
days.' Yes, Muslims can visit and exchange gifts with non-Muslims. All 
schools of law agree that the Prophet gave presents to and received them 
from non-Muslims, so doing the same today is actually a laudable act of 
imitating the Prophet's Sunna. The great scholars of classical Islam allowed 
Muslims to host and visit non-Muslims, and it was indeed permissible to 
tell Egypt's Christians 'May God grant you life' on holidays, just as one 
would do with Muslims. 115 Being the state's official voice of tradition was a 
thankless job. 'There are some scholars who know the Tradition' (turath), 
he explained one day to his students, 'and some who understand present 
realities. But there are very few who know how to fit the two together.' 


Lying about the Prophet of God 

Even among the colossal glass high-rises and tightly winding 
motorways of Malaysia's capital, the lush verdancy of the jungle 
is always within arm's reach - an oblong face of exposed rock 
shaded by creepers; the odd gargantuan and gnarled jejawi tree. Outside 
of the city in Jenderami, the dark ribbon of freshly tarred road weaves a 
serene path through the hills of green palms and sedate roadside shops. 

The Jenderami Pondok is a model of calm and good order. Not only 
does the immaculate mosque and madrasa complex house students, it 
boasts a supermarket, an orphanage and a home for the elderly and retired. 
The institution of the pondok, or 'lodge' madrasa, first appeared in the 
Southeast Asian world in the sixteenth century. The ulama of 'Javan' Islam 
(as the region's scholarly tradition came to be known), who had acquired 
their learning across the Indian Ocean trade routes in Yemen or Mecca, 
built schools in villages and remote jungle clearings. Children seeking 
knowledge flocked to them, and soon their families joined them. Pondoks 
became entire villages centered around Islamic learning. 

The ancestral chain tracing the authenticity of the jenderami Pondok's 
sacred knowledge stretches back along the seaways and polyglot coastal 
enclaves of Islam's Indian Ocean world, with its telltale signs of the sarong 
and stunning cuisine as unmistakable in Yemeni ports as in Sumatra. The 
intimate connections and interminglings of these distant lands reveal 
themselves in the ambiguity of phenotypes and in smooth, blended facial 
features. They are heard daily in Hindi loanwords in Gulf Arabic and in 
Arabic's lexical largesse to Malay, and in the cases filed unrelentingly in 
Singapore courts by some cousin suing some relative for control of some 
decayed family property near Aden. 


The Hadramawt valley of Yemen is the spiritual heart of this world 
The Jenderami Pondokis connected there through its heritage of Him and 
the days its ulama spent as students there. Even today the relationship is 
as much a lively circuit of visiting scholars and shared Sufi festivals as it is 
an umbilical cord connecting the Southeast Asian world to the Arabian 
heartland of Islam. The chain of tradition is laid out before you as you step 
into the main reception hall at Jenderami: a wide wall hanging leads your 
eye from tiny photos of late local Malay masters, back before the photo- 
graph to the early modern scholars of Yemen and the Hijaz, further back 
to Egypt and Baghdad and finally, across fourteen centuries, to Medina 
and the Messenger of God. As a prominent sign reads, this is 'The Chain 
of Jenderami's Knowledge of Islamic Law and Sufism.' It is the credentials 
of Jenderami's teachers and the fount of the school's Baraka, or blessings, 
the palpable substance of faith that draws in the faithful. 

Inthemidstof the reserved students and elderly widows milling around 
the Pondok's central courtyard, a busload of visitors from Malaysia's state - 
owned oil company dismounts to enjoy the peace and spiritual ambience. 
Jenderami has wealthy donors. Malaysia's petrochemical and palm-oil 
production swamps the country's economy with annual, if uneven, plenty. 
The palatial shopping malls of Kuala Lumpur have few equals in the West, 
and the football-field-sized food courts are, to my knowledge, unique in 
the world. 

Malaysia has been a pioneer in Islamic finance, or the business of 
effectively funneling surplus wealth in ways that observe the Shariah's 
prohibitions on Rib a (interest) and Gharar (excessive risk). The centrality 
of routine interest in the modern world economy has, not surprisingly, 
made finding an Islamic alternative highly desirable. Islamic finance has 
grown to a $1.3 trillion annual industry globally, with Malaysia as a central 
hub. Fully one-fifth of the country's banking sector is Shariah-compliant, 
and it issued more than 80 percent of global Islamic bond notes in 2012. 

Of course, religious observance is not uniform. It is difficult to approxi- 
mate how many Muslims observe the Shariah rules on modern finance, 
which are highly contested to begin with. Recent estimates run from 
12 percent of Muslims using Shariah-compliant financial products to an 
approximation that two-thirds of Muslims would like to ifit were feasible. 1 

Convincing average Muslims of the sinfulness of dealing in interest 
has always been a challenge for the ulama, and never more so than with 
rulers eager to borrow and influential merchants eager to lend. In the late 


eleventh century, the Seljuq sultan of Baghdad expelled a hugely popular 
scholar from the city for urging his large audiences to heed the Shariabfs 
ban on Riba. It seems he threatened too much the gears of commerce. 
By the late sixteenth century the Ottoman religious establishment had 
come to accept that interest was regularly being charged. Despite fierce 
resistance by purist ulama, their more pragmatic colleagues employed in 
the Ottoman administration recognized that such practices had become 
a thread running inextricably through the empire's economy. They sought 
only to prevent exploitatively high rates. 2 Yet the campaign to stomp inter- 
est out completely has never ceased, with preachers to this day reiterating 
to the faithful the severe condemnation of Riba in the Qur'an and Hadiths. 
One modern Malaysian cleric begins a concise online primer on the sever- 
ity of Riba with a startling Hadith: the Prophet declared that 'Riba is of 
seventy types, the least severe is like a man having sex with his mother.' 3 
This Hadith often strikes Muslims as odd. How could it be that receiving 
five percent interest on a savings account is tantamount to an unnatural 
sexual act? Some ulama offer explanations emphasizing that it is God who 
assigns the moral weight of actions, not man. Rulings from the Qur'an and 
Hadiths are sometimes arational, like the Qur'an's prohibition on pork, 
and inaccessible to the mortal mind if unassisted by revelation. Other 
ulama argue that mild Riba only seems a petty sin because daily life has 
desensitized our moral compass. If we really grasped the effect of financial 
interest on society, we would see its perfidy clearly. With the exception of 
the spiritually aware, however, we are veiled from the reality of God and 
the true nature of our actions by the shroud of this earthly life. All will 
be laid bare on Judgment Day. Sayyid Naquib Al-Attas, Malaysia's most 
famous Islamic intellectual and educational reformer, often speaks about 
the fog that obscures our moral vision and our inability to grasp the true 
nature of our actions or the realities of the Afterlife. He cites the Hadith of 
the Prophet, 'People are asleep, and when they die they awaken.' 


One surprising feature unites the Jenderami chain of tradition, the Hadith 
equating mild Riba with incest and the Hadith about humankind's earthly 
somnolence: none of them is technically 'true.' Put differently, none of 
them corresponds to the historical reality that each claims to represent. 


A crucial link in the Jenderami chain relies on the Basran Sufi Abu Talib 
Makki receiving the knowledge of Islamic law and Sufism from Abu Bakr 
Shibli, a saint of Baghdad. But the two never met, and the chain of the 
school's 'Urn is thus broken. 4 The Hadith equating the slightest form of 
Riba with incest has been widely considered unreliable or even a blatant 
forgery by Muslim Hadith scholars, and the Hadith quoted by Al-Attas 
was never said by the Prophet but rather by the caliph Ali bin Abi Talib. 5 
What does it mean that something is true, or to speak the truth? For 
Aristotle and the intellectual worlds he so profoundly influenced, the 
truth of things is their essential nature. Speaking the truth is, as Aristotle 
asserts in his Metaphysics, 'to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that 
it is not' - it is a proposition that corresponds to external reality. 6 Modern 
Western philosophers have labeled this predominant perspective on truth 
the Correspondence Theory of Truth. Islamic civilization adopted the 
Aristotelian definition almost word for word. For Muslim legal theorists, 
a true proposition was one 'that corresponds to reality.' A falsehood, by 
contrast, is a proposition that 'does not correspond to reality.' 

For Aristotle and his Muslim and Western heirs, the reality to which our 
speech must correspond in order to be true was not in doubt. It was emi- 
nently graspable by the senses and perceivable by man's faculty of reason. 
As the pillars of the West's medieval philosophical edifice crumbled one by 
one in the Renaissance and early modern periods, however, philosophers 
articulated new understandings of truth and how it should be expressed. 
Nietzsche, that great idol smasher, took his hammer to the fragile claim 
that language has the capacity to represent reality, undermining our claim 
to grasp it. Just as language is no more than an invented convention cre- 
ated and affirmed by our human communities for our own convenience, 
he insisted, so the 'truth' that language claims to describe is no more than 
a convention agreed upon to create hope for an inconsequential species m 
a vast world. Truth, Nietzsche revealed, is just a necessary lie - a drug - 
that we need for our comfort and sanity. Within the sphere of our great 
global he, what people truly object to when they condemn quotidian 
falsehoods is not untruth per se but the act of fraud, deceptively claiming 
that something unreal is real for some improper motive. 7 

Over the last two centuries, as the sense that reality is of humankind's 
own making has gained increasing acceptance, some philosophers have 
articulated what has become known as the Coherence Theory of Truth. 
This holds that propositions or beliefs are true when they fit into consistent 


systems of belief or worldviews. In contrast to the Correspondence Theory, 
the Coherence Theory does not hold out some external reality as a meas- \ 
ure of truth. Since we cannot escape the axiomatic nature of our basic 
beliefs, the restrictions of language or even the subjectivity of our own 
sense perception, there is no external, objective proof that something is 
true. The very backgrounds against which we compare claims of truth 
are themselves no more than claims. However obvious or deeply rooted 
a truth seems, then, the only guarantor of the truth of any one claim is a 
greater system of claims. 8 If that system is based in a certain belief in some 
immeasurable metaphysical reality, like God and revelation, then anything 
that accords within the structures of that system is true. 

The American philosopher and pioneer psychologist William James 
proposed a theory of truth that could be seen as a middle ground. Known 
as the Pragmatic Theory, it shuns dogmatic definitions of truth in favor of 
something more practical. Propositions are true when people believe they 
are true. Certainly, this is constrained in empirical questions. The Pragmatic 
approach conceives of truth as correspondence with reality in questions 
relating to the material world. In terms of ideas, beliefs or metaphysical 
claims, however, an individual finds truth when they feel that an idea makes 
sense and fits into their own subjective reality. 9 Speaking truth about the 
empirically measurable world around us means describing it as it is, but 
claims about higher realities are true if they bring the speaker solace. 


At one lecture given by Sayyid Naquib Al-Attas, an audience member who 
specialized in the study of Hadiths rose and objected to his attributing Ali's 
saying 'People are asleep, and when they die they awaken' to the Prophet. 
Al-Attas replied, "Why should we not use this, when it is an important 
principle (asl) in our religion?' 

Even those who subscribe wholeheartedly to the Correspondence 
Theory of Truth and believe that an external reality is the measure of 
truthful speech face a quandary. Is 'reality' one-dimensional and made 
up only of the superficial facts that compose the perceptible surfaces of 
our world, as materialists like Aristotle believed? Or is reality possessed 
of depth and layers, with more profound dimensions of reality existing 
behind and above the material world we perceive, as Plato held? Was 


Al-Attas misrepresenting truth - as surface fact - when he attributed this 
saying to Muhammad, or was he accurately invoking truth - as profound 
reality - when he placed an inherently true statement in the mouth of the 
Prophet whom Muslims revere as "The Truthful One, Believed in Truth'? 

How one answers this question informs how one defines lying and 
conveying 'truth' to others. As Aeneas flees the burning streets of Troy in 
the Aeneid, inconsolable over the ruthless massacre of his countrymen, 
Virgil summons into the fray the hero's mother, the goddess Aphrodite. 
She reveals the reality behind the patina of horrific events engulfing Troy. 
The clouds of perception are swept away, and for a moment Aeneas sees 
the gods themselves destroying the great city. He understands the divine 
will behind his human suffering. 

Which, then, is the better description of reality, literal truth or the 
profound realities behind it? Are the events of the past better served by 
a historian who recounts facts, or by an epic poet who conveys deeper 
truths? The Renaissance poet Petrarch begs the question as he ruminates on 
Virgil's scene: 'It is in this way that truth abides in the fictions of the poets, 
and one perceives it shining out through the crevices of their thought.' 10 

The archetype of advancing profound truth at the expense of superficial 
falsehood is the 'Noble Lie' described by Plato in his Republic. Speaking 
through his avatar, Socrates, Plato charts his plan for an ideal state, where 
justice is achieved and maintained through each organ of society's body 
performing its proper function. This ideal state will consist of three classes 
performing different tasks, with children moved from one to another if they 
are better suited for it than the class into which they were born. They will 
accept their assignment without objection and however base it be because 
they will be told a 'Noble Lie' from a young age. It is a myth that teaches 
that people originally all sprang from the earth. The gods mixed gold into 
the constitutions of some individuals, silver into others and finally lead or 
brass into the last group. If each person is not placed within his caste, the 
myth warns, ruin will befall the state (Republic 111:414-15). 

Lying for noble purposes has long crossed civilizational lines. The 
Mahayana Buddhist text known as the Lotus Sutra, dating from as early as 
the third century ce, affords an example of the Buddhist teaching device 
of 'Skillful Means,' or shaping the Buddha's teachings to what is appropri- 
ate for each audience and sometimes even deviating from the strictures 
of Buddhist practice. The Lotus Sutra tells of a rich man whose house is 
aflame but whose children are too distracted by play to answer his cries 


to evacuate. He eventually lures them out by promising them beautiful 
gifts. They rush out and, unbeknown to them, are saved from the fire. B^it 
they find their father has lied about the gifts. Then, in the place of his false 
promises, he gives each of them a more stunning gift: an orange chariot 
drawn by a white bull. In the allegory of the Lotus Sutra, the burning house 
was the prison of desire and the false gifts were the Buddha's teachings 
that bring the children out into the world of Enlightenment. Associating 
Buddhist teachings with lies was morally fraught, though, and there was 
debate among early Buddhist masters about whether the father had told a 
falsehood. It was concluded that he had done no wrong. His was a Noble 
Lie. Like the quest for civil justice in the Republic, Enlightenment was the 
objective in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. As with Plato, there was a 
degree of flexibility in the means used to attain it." 

Plato's Noble Lie and the Lotus Sutra's allegory of the burning house 
are falsehoods that literally misrepresent reality. Humankind is not born 
of the earth and alloyed with metals. There were no toys outside the house 
for the children as the father described. But, like Petrarch's 'fictions of the 
poets,' both lies are true as metaphor. All people are not born with equal 
talents, so some are arguably made of better metal than others and more 
suited for specific tasks. The children of the burning house were granted 
rewards much greater than mere toys. 

These Noble Lies require more than just a particular conception of truth 
and reality for justification. They are inseparable from a vision of society 
that assumes the leadership of an elite possessed of superior wisdom and 
authority. Plato's lie is not called 'Noble' simply because the philosopher's 
intentions were commendable. In Greek it is 'noble' (gennaion) in the sense 
of being a 'well-born' lie, one born of aristocratic stock. The cerebrum of 
Plato's body politic is the class of the Guardians, the true Philosophers 
(Lovers of Wisdom) who attain wisdom and, like Aeneas, have seen behind 
the veil of the material world. The Philosopher is justified in lying to his 
subjects because he knows it is in their own best interests. Similarly, the 
Buddha is described as a physician who knows how and when to dispense 
cures. Like doctors tricking a patient into taking medicine, the Philosopher 
or Enlightened Teacher can engage in falsehood because it is harmless 
compared to the great good achieved. The Noble Lie is justified because 
it works and is used by those who know how to use it. 

When he was not occupied with his work as a Shariah court judge in 
Cordoba or writing manuals of Islamic law, Averroes (Ibn Rushd) wrote 


precious commentaries on the works of Plato and Aristode. Discussing 
the Republic and the Noble Lie, Ibn Rushd remarks: "There is no lawgiver 
who does not employ fictitious tales, because this is necessary for the 
masses if they are to attain happiness.' 12 Like his philosophical paragon 
Aristotle, Ibn Rushd believed that different audiences should be addressed 
with different types of proof or methods of argumentation. When it came 
to the masses, the ulama should address them not with demonstrations 
of the truth or complex argument but with compelling rhetoric. In this 
way they might be urged toward what helps them and steered away from 
what harms them. 13 

The man the Latin West would come to revere as Averroes was not the 
first Muslim scholar to have adopted this Aristotelian model of a gradated 
set of proofs or the Platonic model of the Guardian class. As far back as 
Shafi'i, the ulama had considered themselves the 'Elect' whose job it 
was to ruminate on and derive the details of Islamic law and dogma in 
order to properly guide the 'Masses,' whose only duty was to follow their 
scholarly instruction. Beneath the ulama's stormy debates over schools 
of law and theology, their view of the masses was uniform: 'the layperson 
has no madhhab.' This did not mean that he or she was not subject to the 
order of some school of law. It meant that the laity was not even qualified 
to think about Islam at the level of contrasting schools of thought. They 
simply followed whatever madhhab the local ulama instructed them on. 

Earlyworks of Islamic law and theology are replete with the maxim that 
'We have been commanded to speak to people according to their minds' 
abilities.' 14 The Prophet had once instructed one of his Companions not 
to tell the masses of his followers that God would protect from Hellfire 
anyone who professed that there is only one God and that Muhammad is 
His Prophet. He feared that such a guarantee might encourage laxity in his 
followers' practice. In his definitive commentary onBukhari's collection, 
the fifteenth-century Cairene scholar Ibn Hajar notes that it was desirable 
to refrain from telling mass audiences any Hadith that might, at face value, 
mislead listeners into heresy or incite rebellion against the state. 


'It is said,' a sixteenth- century text on the lives of Sufi saints reports, that 
the Egyptian Sufi master 'Abd al-Ghaffar Qusi was once eating squash 


when his son remarked, 'Verily, the Messenger of God, may God's peace 
be upon him, loved eating squash.' The master replied angrily, "That's} 
nonsense!' unsheathed his sword and struck off his son's head. 'He put 
the aim of the Lawmaker before the fruit of his own heart,' concludes the 
scholar writing Qusi's biography. 16 The biographer, himself a great jurist 
and Sufi, was not at all certain that this dramatic rebuke of Hadith forgery 
had really occurred. But, in any case, it was a striking story that left no 
ambiguity in the reader's mind about the horrendous sin of 'lying about 
the Prophet of God.' 

Lying, even Noble Lying, was considered an unmitigated sin in Sunni 
Islam. Ulama had inveighed against it since the earliest days of the Muslim 
community. Of course, there were situations in which lying was allowed 
and even encouraged, but these had been delimited by the Prophet in a 
well-known Hadith: 'Lying is not permitted except in three instances: a 
man speaking to his wife and trying to make her happy, deception in war- 
fare and lying to help reconcile people.' 17 This was a very narrowwindow, 
however, with one ninth-century book devoted to condemning lying 
including a Hadith in which the Prophet - with due respect to the Lotus 
Sutra - even forbade tricking a child with a false offer. 18 This aversion to 
lying was due in great part to the cult of authenticity and preservation of 
truth that permeated the Sunni science of Hadith criticism. The most widely 
transmitted Hadith was the Prophet's dire warning, 'Whoever misrepre- 
sents me intentionally, let him prepare for himself a seat in Hellfire.' This 
became the mantra of Sunni scholarly culture. When the greatest Hadith 
scholar of eleventh-century Baghdad died, the huge crowd of mourners 
accompanying his body to the cemetery cried out, 'Make way! Make way 
for him who fended off lies from the Messenger of God!' Without exception, 
Sunni scholars across the centuries absolutely condemned the intentional 
forgery of Hadiths, even for good causes. 

If uttering 'propositions that contradict reality' was forbidden in Islam, 
speaking truth could be flexible and left many avenues open for Skillful 
Means. Generalization, omission and creative phrasing were all accepted 
by Muslim scholars as tools of pedagogy and rhetoric. 'For every situa- 
tion there is a thing to say,' went a famous Arabic aphorism embraced 
by the ulama; 'If a layperson comes to me off the street and asks me 
if there are mistakes in the Two Authentic Collections (Sahihayn) of 
Bukhari and Muslim,' admitted one modern Egyptian Hadith scholar 
privately, 'I'd tell them no. But among the ulama,' he added, 'we all 


acknowledge that the two books have errors - there is no perfect book 
but the Book of God.' 

More importantly, the Sunni science of Hadith criticism rated the 
reliability of attributions to the Prophet along a spectrum. The optimum 
rating for a Hadith was 'widely and diffusely transmitted' (mutawatir) - a 
report so well established that it could not possibly be a forgery. This level 
was followed by the 'sound' (sahih) rating, the level of many of the Hadiths 
in the canonical Sunni collections. Toward the other end of the spectrum 
were 'weak (da' if) Hadiths, those with interrupted chains of transmis- 
sion, limited corroboration and/ or unreliable narrators reporting them. 
Finally there were egregious, 'baseless forgeries' imawdu'). The ulama 
acknowledged that using blatantly forged Hadiths as evidence for anything 
was off limits, but Hadiths rated merely as 'weak' were a different matter. 
Although a Hadith critic might not find reliable chains of transmission 
establishing that Muhammad had said those particular words, this was 
an absence of evidence more than evidence of absence. It might well be 
that the Prophet had made the statement but that all traces of it had been 
lost. As the Lisbon judge and Hadith virtuoso Ibn Abd al-Barr observed 
in the eleventh century, 'How many Hadiths there are with a weak chain 
of transmission but a sound meaning.' 

The ulama who undertook intensive Hadith study often maintained 
stricter standards in their craft. They sat hunched over volumes of trans- 
missions, tracing and evaluating the minute details of words attributed 
to Muhammad. Such committed scholars insisted over the centuries that 
preserving the Prophet's legacy in its true form meant only attaching the 
noble phrase "The Prophet of God said...' to statements with established 
chains of transmission. 

For other ulama, however, like jurists deriving details of obscure rul- 
ings, local imams mounting the pulpit to deliver Friday sermons or Sufis 
describing mystical encounters with God, less rigor would suffice. Even 
the paragon of adhering to the authentic Sunna, Ibn Hanbal, had included 
hundreds of 'weak' Hadiths in his voluminous Musttaibecause he believed 
they might serve some use in a legal issue or assist Muslims in their man- 
ners. 19 By the eleventh century it had become routine for ulama compiling 
their vast Hadith collections (the largest would fill 180 printed volumes 
today) to include countless patent forgeries, excusing this by declaring that 
they had provided the chains of transmission for each Hadith appearing m 
the book. They had thus done their due diligence, they argued, and left the 


expert reader with all the evidence needed to evaluate the Hadith. Jurists 
penning legal commentaries or preachers admonishing a congregation! 
would invoke the Prophet's authority with a weak Hadith by introduc- 
ing it ambiguously as 'It has been reported that the Messenger of God 
said...' or 'It was narrated from him that...': modes of citation that were 
acknowledged in manuals of Hadith study to indicate uncertainty about 
the Hadith's status. Hence the phrasing of the hyperbolic vignette about 
Qusi. 'It is said/ wrote his biographer, that the Sufi decapitated his own 
son for lying about God's Messenger. Its authenticity neatly sidestepped, 
the story was cited and the point made. 

The utility afforded by unreliable Hadiths conveniently tailored for 
public sermons made employing them too difficult to resist. Street-side 
haranguers or preachers occupying a perch in a mosque made the most 
use of them, frequendy inciting the ire of more erudite ulama. Ibn Hanbal 
was torn between disapproval of the preachers and an appreciation for the 
positive influence they could have. 'Howuseful they are to the masses,' he 
once said as he passed by a preacher, even though the mass of what they 
say is false.' The lower rung of ulama who manned the local neighborhood 
mosques of Islamdom might take advantage of prepackaged booklets of 
mostly forged Hadiths fabricated specifically for homilies. One perenni- 
ally popular book consisted of forty Hadiths supposedly taken from the 
Prophet's own Friday sermons, including concocted spiritual bromides 
like, 'O people ! The world is an abode of affliction, a site of transience and 
distress. The souls of felicitous folk are removed from it, while it is stripped 
forcefully from the hands of those bound for perdition...' 20 Occasionally 
a pious forger was unmasked. Ghulam Khalil was a venerated Sufi saint 
of Baghdad and was so beloved that when he died in 889 the markets of 
the city shut down in mourning. Yet once, when he had been questioned 
about some dubious Hadiths he narrated concerning righteous behavior, 
Ghulam Khalil had replied, 'We forged these so that we could soften and 
improve the hearts of the people.' 21 

With the efflorescence of Sufism in the thirteenth century, the use of 
unreliable or baseless Hadiths entered a baroque phase. Vulgar forgery was 
no longer required. In the absence of Isnad evidence, ulama of mystical 
inclination could claim the authenticity of an otherwise unattested Hadith 
by more dignified means. The paradigmatic mystic Ibn Arabi declared him- 
self able to verify Hadiths that had no chains of transmission whatsoever 
on the basis of 'unveiling (kashf)', or inspiration from God that took the 


place of more earthly evidence. A respected cleric discussing the authen- 
ticity of a Hadith before his students in a madrasa was interrupted by a 
Sufi dervish who ejaculated: "That Hadith is false!' The dervish explained 
that he knew this because, at that very moment, he could see the Prophet 
standing over the cleric's shoulder signaling his disapproval. 22 Even as late 
as the early twentieth century, revivalist Sufis like the Moroccan 'Abd al- 
Kabir Kattani (d. 1910) received the wording of new Sufi liturgies directly 
from the Prophet in dream encounters or even in waking visions. 

As with the case of the man who claimed the Prophet had appeared to 
him and granted him a tax exemption, in principle authenticating Hadiths 
by 'unveiling' could not affect the duties and prohibitions of the sacred 
law. Yet this principle was often obscured amid the thriving pietistic cul- 
ture that characterized the religious space in which most Muslims from 
Morocco to India lived. In the fourteenth century a famous Egyptian 
scholar came across a Hadith that warned Muslims not to cut their finger- 
nails on Wednesdays because it caused leprosy. The Hadith struck the 
scholar as odd, and when he investigated its transmission he concluded it 
was decidedly unreliable. Having cut his fingernails on a Wednesday, he 
awoke the next morning afflicted with lepro sy. When the Prophet appeared 
to the ailing cleric in a dream, the scholar pleaded that he had analyzed the 
Hadith and concluded that it was weak. 'It should suffice you to have heard 
it,' the Prophet said. The scholar repented and was miraculously cured. 23 
While studying in Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque in the 1 920s, a Moroccan Sufi 
scholar committed to a more disciplined approach to Hadiths found himself 
receiving embarrassed apologies from senior scholars, including a master 
from his own Sufi order, after he had alerted them to the abundant number 
of Hadiths well established as forgeries that peppered their writings and 
lessons. 'But the ulama have all agreed that the aim of narrating Hadiths 
is to act on them whether they are sound or forged,' one of the senior 
scholars objected incorrectly, prompting the young Moroccan to retort 
that no Sunni scholar had ever condoned forging lies about the Prophet. 24 

Whether in Cairo or Delhi, from the thirteenth century onward Muslim 
religious devotion centered on the veneration of living Sufi saints, con- 
gregating at the shrines of departed ones and, most intensely, revering 
the Prophet Muhammad as a cosmic reality rather than a mere man. 
Ironically, it was in the celebration of Muhammad himself that the indul- 
gence of forged Hadiths reached its acme. The Prophet had said that he 
was 'the best of mankind,' and the Qur'an had commanded Muslims to 'call 


God's peace and blessings down ever' upon the man who was their 'most 
goodly exemplar.' In the mystical thought of Ibn Arabi and other Sufis,} 
Muhammad was far more than an earthly being. Behind the flesh of his 
mortal life was an eternal reality, the perfect reflection of God's wondrous 
unity. By the fifteenth century, meditating on the person of the Prophet 
and his attributes had become a centerpiece of Sufi devotion and popular 
religion, and invoking God's blessings upon him became a mainstay ritual 
activity for groups and individuals. So widespread and moving was love for 
the Prophet that in eighteenth-century Egypt a book entitled The Signs of 
the Good (Dala'il al-Khayrat), which included a weekly regimen of poems 
praising the Prophet and prayers for him, was the most commonly owned 
book after the Qur'an. 25 FAen today, books written for public reading and 
poems sung in the Prophet's praise are ubiquitous during celebrations of 
his birthday in Egypt's Nile Valley cities and the verdant farming hamlets 
of the Delta. 

These books and poems brim with concocted Hadiths and descriptions 
of Muhammad's perfection. Of the roughly twenty-five Hadiths in the 
introductory chapter of The Signs of the Good, which provides a selection 
describing the virtues and rewards of praying for Muhammad, one-fifth 
are not only 'weak' (a rating that ulama could frequently disagree on) but 
also totally untraceable, unknown in any other Hadith collection or even 
in the catalogs of forged Hadiths. One such baseless report tells that the 
Prophet proclaimed that anytime a Muslim prayed for him, God would 
transform that prayer into a bird soaring across land and sea on 'seventy 
thousand wings, each wing with seventy thousand feathers, each feather 
with seventy thousand heads, each head with seventy thousand faces, each 
face with seventy thousand mouths, each mouth with seventy thousand 
tongues, each tongue praising God in seventy thousand words,' and God 
rewarding him for each one. 26 

Sometimes profound love for the Prophet could overcome the scruples 
of even cognizant ulama. Since the time of Ibn Arabi, a number of Sufi 
works on the Prophet's status had featured a Hadith in which he told his 
Companion Jabir that 'The first thing that your Lord created was the light 
of your Prophet, 0 Jabir...' proving that Muhammad was an eternal light 
that preceded the creation of the world. Yet even those medieval Hadith 
critics known for their laxity could find no evidence that the Prophet had 
ever said this. Belief in its truth persisted, however, especially among Sufi 
scholars. Some claimed that the Hadith of Jabir had been verified in an early 


ninth-century Hadith collection written in the Yemeni city of Sanaa but 
that those crucial pages of the book had been lost. The young Moroccan 
Sufi who had corrected his elders' use of forged Hadiths went to Sanaa to 
search for the missing pages, to no avail, and his equally driven younger 
brother later wrote a definitive treatise on the falsehood of that particular 
Hadith. Nonetheless, in 2005 a Muslim scholar in Dubai claimed to have 
received the vanished fascicule from an Indian colleague who had come 
across it in an obscure manuscript library. Replete with anachronistic 
errors, written in the modern Indian style of Arabic script and published 
under dubious circumstances, evidence for the long-lost Hadith of Jabir met 
with near-unanimous skepticism among Sunni ulama. Asked to produce 
the supposedly ancient pages for modern scientific study, the publisher 
claimed they had been lost in a fire. 27 


Once a sought-after beauty, Lady Montagu's face had been scarred by 
smallpox by the time she began her travels in 1717. Reflecting in wonder 
on the masterpieces of classical perfection she saw in Naples and Florence, 
she wrote that no letter home could communicate the magnificence of a 
statue's face or figure. An image conjured by words could not provide 'a 
true idea; it only gratifies the imagination with a fantastic one, until the real 
one is seen...' Intellectually voracious, a noted prose stylist and enamored 
of Newton's new science, Lady Montagu accompanied her husband on his 
diplomatic posting to Istanbul. Along with a remarkable set of observations 
about Ottoman society, she introduced its lifesaving practice of smallpox 
inoculation to Britain upon her return. 28 

Had he met Lady Montagu, her Neapolitan contemporary Giambattista 
Vico would have admitted himself appropriately impressed by her scientific 
discoveries and by the multiplying body of 'facts' in their new, modern 
world. But he also understood well that, since the birth of myths among 
ancient peoples, the truest stories have often been the ones that made sense 
of the world even if they later fell short of facts. The professor of rhetoric 
could not bring himself to endorse the new fad of reconfiguring ethics, 
language and education through the same scientific lens of mathematics 
and measurement. The world of human experience was too immense and 


clouded in the miasma of man's own invented cultures to be measured so 
exactly. Poetry, not arid prose, was man's original language, the common- \ 
sense probabilities of alert living his best guide, and rhetorical flourishes, 
not dry accuracy, his most convincing moments. 

In an inaugural address given before the University of Naples in 1708, 
Vico vented his disapproval. In public speaking, he observed, enthusiasts 
of the mathematical philosophy of Descartes might assume that nothing 
sways an audience like reasoned truth. While wise men might be so con- 
vinced, Vico objected, 'the multitude, the vulgus,' are in the end only car- 
ried by 'corporeal images' and carnal appeals to their fears and appetites. If 
'modern' philosophers thirsted after truth, they were better off consulting 
the 'invented examples' of the poets than some cold review of observed 
facts. They would find a loftier sense of reality.' Surely this explained why 
the ancient pagans of Athens and Rome tolerated poets spinning elaborate 
myths and concocted tales of the gods and heroes. They encouraged this 
because it meant 'the masses were imbuedwith amore grandiose opinion 
of the might of their deities.' Only in the rituals and sacrifices that were 
the concrete and public manifestations of religion did Greek and Roman 
rulers enforce exactness and accurate details. Only then did they punish 
deviation from superficial truths. 29 

As far back as textual evidence can take us in Islamic civilization, the 
ulama understood Vico's point well. As Ibn Rushd and Aristotle before 
him insisted, rhetoric was the tool that the elect employed to move the 
masses toward what benefited them and away from what harmed them. 
To dissuade the vulgus from a sin like usury, what could shame them into 
cringing reconsideration more than the Prophet of God himself equating 
the least collection of interest with mounting one's own mother? By posi- 
tive contrast, a tired mosque imam, perhaps not as eloquent as he had once 
hoped, might find great utility in a book of forty homiletic quotes, each rhe- 
torically refined and packaged with the authority of the Messenger of God. 

One genre of Hadiths that the ulama found useful in this regard was 
Hadiths of 'exhortation and warning' (targhib wa tarhib). These either 
described the fantastic rewards that believers could expect in the Afterlife 
for performing some deed, such as extra prayers, or alternatively warned 
of dreadful punishments in Hellfire for transgressions. This genre was also 
replete with forgeries and material of dubious authenticity. 

To justify acting on or disseminating patently unreliable Hadiths of 
exhortation and warning, the ulama often cited a Hadith in which the 


Prophet promises, 'Whoever comes across a report from God (and his 
Prophet) about the virtue of some act and then acts on it, believing it and 
hoping for that reward, God will grant him the reward even if the report 
was not true.' Ironically, this Hadith itself was of dubious origin. 30 By far 
the most persistent defense for employing unreliable Hadiths, however, 
was not a justification at all. Rather, it was a simple statement about the 
ulama's distinction between areas of their religion that merited a strict 
regime of accuracy and those where such a regime might constrict ben- 
efits. Ibn Hanbal drew on the words of one of his teachers when he stated, 
'If Hadiths are related to us from the Prophet concerning rulings of the 
Shariah and what is licit and prohibited, we are rigorous with the chains 
of transmission.' 'But if we are told Hadiths dealing with the virtues of 
actions, their rewards and punishments [in the Afterlife], permissible 
things or pious invocations,' Ibn Hanbal qualified, 'we are lax with the 
chains of transmission.' Generation after generation of the titans of Sunni 
scholarship, from Nawawi to Suyuti, from the last Ottoman Shariah court 
judge of Beirut to the founder of the first Muslim college in America, have 
upheld this principle: provided they are not clearly forgeries (in any case 
a subjective judgment), unreliable Hadiths could be used to describe the 
moral weight of actions in God's eyes and the punishments or rewards they 
carry in the Afterlife. They could also be cited in sermons and invoked 
to inculcate good manners. Among scholars of the Hanafi school of law, 
unreliable Hadiths even sufficed as legal evidence in categorizing things 
as 'recommended' or 'disliked.' 

Some ulama sensed a contradiction between this strategy and the 
stated Sunni disavowal of 'lying about the Prophet of God.' In the fifteenth 
century a clique of stricter Hadith scholars in Cairo proposed the require- 
ment that an unreliable Hadith could be invoked or acted on only if it fit 
under some established principle of the Shariah, and also provided the 
person hearing it did not actually believe that the Prophet had said it. Yet 
such measures only highlighted the dissonance in the ulama's use of weak 
Hadiths. Why would an illiterate grocer, for example, perched against the 
column of a Cairo mosque be moved one way or another by a Hadith he 
heard in a Friday sermon if he did not believe Muhammad had actually 
said it? The metropolis' leading Hadith scholar of the 1490s, Shams al-Din 
Sakhawi, replied to these objections with atypical academic obtuseness. His 
answer belied the underlying inconsistency between the ulama's valoriza- 
tion of textual authenticity in theory and their use of pseudo-scripture in 


practice. We assume, he explained, that someone citing, hearing or acting 
on an unreliable Hadith only believes that the Hadith is 'in all probability' \ 
authentic, not necessarily that it can be attributed word for word to the 
Prophet with absolute certainty. 31 

This was a contorted and unconvincing defense. Not even the vast 
majority of the Hadiths that Muslim scholars had actually authenticated 
as sahih (sound), which filled the pages of the canonical Hadith collections 
and played so crucial a role in the interpretation of Islamic law, were judged 
to be reliable with absolute certainty. Muslim scholars had centuries earlier 
integrated their collection of Hadiths into the greater Aristotelian system 
of knowledge by acknowledging that, with at most a few dozen massively 
transmitted exceptions, even Hadiths rated as sahih were only 'most 
probably' the words of the Prophet. They were not transmitted widely 
and diffusely enough to meet the philosopher's standard for certainty. 
How could this same scheme be used to excuse using 'weak' Hadiths, 
which no one could claim were 'probably' the words of the Prophet at 
all? Sakhawi's thin defense illustrates how the guardians of the Prophet's 
authentic legacy were reaching the outer limits of justification for their 
habitual use of unreliable Hadiths. 

So why had rigorous clerics, who believed earnestly that 'lying about the 
Prophet of God' was a mortal sin, strayed so far into the gray land between 
truth and falsehood? As Vico recognized in his study of ancient Greece and 
Rome, the answer lies in their understanding of what constituted the core 
of religion. Ibn Hanbal had specified that Hadiths establishing firm Shariah 
rulings such as 'obligatory' or 'forbidden' were verified with strict scrutiny. 
The details and requirements of prayer, ritual purity, fasting, marriage 
contracts and inheritance distribution - these were the foundations and 
framework of Muslims' duties to God and each other. Other topics were of 
secondary importance. Ibn Hanbal and Sunni scholars across the spectra 
of time and temperament considered reports about the early history and 
campaigns of Muhammad's community to be too obscure and unreliably 
preserved to stand up to much historical criticism. Ultimately, this material 
had limited use for understanding God's law. Similarly indistinct in their 
chaotic detail but looming in the future as opposed to the past, Hadiths 
in which the Prophet described the traumas and triumphs that would 
befall the world of men and bring about its apocalyptic finale were also 
outside the core areas of religion. Reports in which Muhammad lauded 
the virtues of his Companions and early Muslim heroes were likewise 


seen as too harmless to merit serious criticism. One of the pillars of Sunni 
Islam had been that all Muslims who had met the Prophet were 'upright' 
exemplars of Muslim practice. It was assumed that all the Companions 
merited praise, so the details of each one's virtues mattered little. Finally 
Hadiths of exhortation and warning, as well as those promoting etiquette 
and good morals, posed no threat even if they could not ultimately be 
substantiated. If a scholar could not find evidence to authenticate a report 
of Muhammad laying out the heavenly rewards that await those who treat 
their parents with mercy and respect, what harm could come from releas- 
ing it to a public audience nonetheless? The Qur'an already commanded 
Muslims to honor their parents, so the duty was well established. Even in 
the eyes of the Sunni ulama, steeped as they were in the resolve to 'fend 
off lies from the Messenger of God,' it did not seem necessary to demand 
critical rigor in authenticating Hadiths in the peripheral areas of etiquette, 
exhortation, history and the end of the world. Hadiths used in these areas 
either served to promote already established truths or provided details 
deemed useful but unessential to religious life. 


Sunni ulama across the centuries considered consciously forging a Hadith 
of the Prophet to be an egregious and unjustifiable sin. But they offered up 
theoretical justifications for a longstanding practice of copying, absorbing, 
publishing and distributing Hadiths and other material they knew were 
either distinctly unreliable or completely fabricated. This seems so glaring a ■ 
contradiction that it is tempting to ascribe it to the cognitive inadequacies 
of a medieval tradition that lacked the sophistication of the West and the 
Greco-Roman patrimony that rescued it from the Dark Ages. 

Yet the inconsistency born of the tension between accuracy and utility 
is not as foreign as one might think. It has appeared century after century 
in the Western tradition of scriptural study and historical writing. The 
textual accuracy of the Bible knew no greater advocate in the sixteenth 
century than Desiderius Erasmus, forgery no greater foe. As he worked 
to produce an edition of the New Testament based not on the Church's 
derivative Latin translation but on the earliest available manuscripts of 
the book's original Greek, Erasmus made a stunning discovery. The only 


verse that explicitly references the doctrine of the trinity (1 John 5:7) was 
not an authentic part of the biblical text. Yet this same crusader against \ 
forgery chose to overlook the same problem in the case of the moving 
pericope of the woman accused of adultery ('Let him who is without sin 
cast the first stone,' John 8:1-11). Erasmus knew that many of the early 
manuscripts of the New Testament garbled the story or lacked it entirely. 
St. Jerome had concluded that the story lacked evidence, and Eusebius 
had felt it was apocryphal. But Erasmus nonetheless included the section 
because it conveyed a good message. Like Origen and Eusebius over a 
millennium earlier, Erasmus acknowledged that stylistic indicators left 
little doubt that Paul was not the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, as 
it was widely believed. But, like those Church Fathers, Erasmus included 
the letter in the New Testament canon because, even if Paul had not writ- 
ten it, it embodied the spirit of his teachings. 32 

Herodotus, the 'Father of History' in the Western tradition, set out 
the discipline's twin goals: studying the causes of great conflicts and pre- 
serving the epic deeds (kleos) of men for later generations. His younger 
contemporary Isocrates incorporated the study of history into his program 
for training effective and conscientious citizens, and it soon became the 
predominant school of Attic education. This pedagogical use of the past 
would have its most lasting impact in the work of Roman historians, who 
wrote history first and foremost as 'the best medicine for a sick mind,' as 
Livy phrased it. Reading about exempla from the past would be the nar- 
rative equivalent of Romans gazing upon the funerary portrait masks of 
their great ancestors, which the Roman historian Sallust noted had always 
inspired heroic deeds in younger generations. 33 

Ever since Herodotus, Western historians have consistently confirmed 
that writing 'history' is a scholarly endeavor defined as describing and 
explaining true events in the past. Aristotle said clearly that the difference 
between a writer of history and a poet is that the first concerns himself 
with particulars and 'relates actual events', while the second sings of more 
universal things that might or might not have actually occurred. Cicero 
wrote that 'history's first law is that an author must not dare tell anything 
but the truth.' He was following on the heels of the pioneering second- 
century b ce historian of Rome's rise, Polybius, who exclaimed that 'when 
truth is removed from history the remainder turns out to be a useless tale.' 
He excoriated an earlier historian for recreating a leader's speech based on 
'what he thinks he ought to have said' instead of adhering to fact. 'If the 


account is not true, it ought not even to be called history,' affirmed the 
sixteenth-century French Renaissance scholar Jean Bodin in his seminal 
treatise on how to write in the genre. 34 

Modern readers of history share these sentiments. They expect no less 
than a truthful observance of fact or, at the very least, an honest admission 
of ignorance. Perhaps the individual most identified with modern history 
writing, the German Leopold Von Ranke, wrote that the historian 'seeks 
only to show what actually happened.' When the modern consumer of 
history reads the speech of a historical person, they expect that the speech 
was actually delivered as is. 35 

Yet all these great historians of antiquity took liberty with facts when 
utility required it, particularly in recounting speeches that could never 
have been recorded word for word. Despite being the father of archival 
research, Thucydides offered a famous caveat in the introduction of his 
Peloponnesian War. It would be too hard to recall verbatim all the speeches 
he includes in the work, he admitted, 'so my habit has been to make the 
speakers say what was in my opinion demanded of them by the various 
occasions.' Polybius' ownHistory ofRomewzs, ironically, punctuated with 
impossibly detailed reproductions of speeches given by generals decades 
earlier on remote fields of battle. 

Furthermore, if ancient historians viewed history first and foremost 
as a storehouse of edifying exempla, then they could find themselves torn 
between accuracy and affect. Isocrates used the books of Herodotus and 
Thucydides in his pedagogy, but he was unconcerned with the truth or 
accuracy of their facts. What interested him was their effectiveness as 
moral exempla. Cicero admitted an exception to his 'first rule of history' 
when he affirmed the rhetorician's (in whose hands the writing of histories 
properly belongs, he believed) right to artistic license. When referring 
to the past in speeches or compositions, Cicero wrote, 'the privilege is 
conceded to rhetoricians to distort history in order to give more point to 
their narrative.' 36 

Some modern scholars of the classics have argued that the luminaries 
of Greco-Roman historiography such as Livy and Plutarch understood 
truth and fact differently from modern audiences, focusing more on what 
plausibly conveyed the desired story than on correspondence to reality. 
Scholars like C. B. R. Pelling, however, have shown that they were more 
like modern historians than not. The greatest classical historians were, in 
general, fastidious about sourcing, accuracy and truthfulness. They strayed 


into fancy or falsehood not on the substantial facts of history, which they 
understood to be the dramas of politics, war and the great men who made \ 
them, but when dealing with the distant or mythical past, where fancy 
was inevitable ( ! AU antiquity is, of course, obscure,' Tacitus concluded 
of what lay in his own distant past), or when presenting supplementary 
material that cast insight on the character of a historical personality. 37 Did 
the fabulously wealthy Crassus really make his sole traveling companion 
return the cloakhe would lend him for trips as soon as they arrived home? 
Perhaps not, but Plutarch felt there was clear evidence that Crassus was 
remarkably stingy, and this vignette drove that point home. Plutarch 
acknowledged how many scholars had questioned the veracity of Solon's 
famous exchange with Croesus because of chronological disparities. But 
he insisted that the episode was so famous and 'consistent with Solon's 
character, so worthy of his wisdom and magnanimity,' that he could not 
help including it in his Life?* As Pelling explains, historians and biogra- 
phers like Plutarch were not 'presenting a false picture, just helping his 
truth on a little.' 39 

Von Ranke and his modern ideal of the historian as providing a record 
of the past, factual in its composition and objective in its evaluations, 
claimed to abandon the temptation to favor utility over accuracy. 'History 
has had assigned to it the office of judging the past and of instructing the 
present for the benefit of the future ages,' von Ranke wrote disapprovingly. 
In his opinion, that was not the historian's proper job. Yet not only has 
the Western reading public continued to browse the 'History' section of 
bookstores first and foremost for learning the lessons of the past (lest they 
be condemned to repeat it), but professional historians have continued 
to meet this demand. 

The awareness that the historian is always part of society - as bard and 
moralizer - contributed to the battering that claims of presenting objec- 
tive history and historical truth have taken in the Western academy since 
the 1970s. Scholars of historiography like Hayden White have exposed 
how historians construct their narratives according to the same themes 
of tragedy, satire, redemption, and so on, as are used by less meticulous 
storytellers. This critical re-evaluation of Western historiography pro- 
posed that the conception of truth operative in the genre was less that of 
Correspondence than that of Coherence. There was no account of history 
that corresponded to what really happened. There were only narratives, 
told from perspectives and only as true as they could be nestled into the 


worldviews of the communities that recounted them. More conservative 
and confident defenders of history as a discipline argue that, like the 
Pragmatic Theory of Truth, while interpretation and even many areas of 
fact are relativistic, there is a 'factual bedrock' of undeniable historical 
truths, such as Nazi atrocities during the Second World War, that cannot 
be declared untrue simply through a change of perspective. 40 Such a bed- 
rock must exist, many contend, because denying it would have the same 
impact as denying the common-sense reality of our sense perception and 
leave us stranded, disoriented in time. 41 

While academic historians wrangle over the possibility of objectively 
representing the past and how much accuracy their guild can lay claim 
to, there remains the ancient tension between the implicit claim to truth 
made in presenting 'history' and amending the past to facilitate its telling. 
This tension still burdens the modern-day mass purveyors of historical 
epic. Americans are invested in the notion that 'history' as a scholarly 
endeavor is, as described by the French historian Paul Veyne, 'a truthful 
story, nothing else.' 42 But Hollywood audiences routinely accept factual 
embellishments in the cause of conveying the real truth perceived at the 
heart of the story. The final episode of the critically acclaimed HBO series 
John Adams offers a metacritical nod to this dissonance. In the finale, 
the aged former president stands in the Capitol building staring at the 
gigantic (and actual) painting that depicts the signing of the Declaration 
of Independence. The painting may be compelling, Adams blusters, but 
'It is very bad history!' The signers had never gathered in one room at 
one time to calmly and nobly affix their signatures to the document, as 
the painting depicts. When the stunned artist insists on his artistic rights, 
Adams rebukes him. 'Do not let our posterity be deluded by fictions under 
the guise of some poetic or graphic license!' 43 

A twenty-first century successor to the heroic portrait painter, American 
filmmaker Martin Scorsese acknowledges the factual liberties taken in 
making a period film recounting historical events. 'It's the truth wrapped 
in a package of lies,' he explains. As demonstrated in the controversy sur- 
rounding the 2012 Oscar-nominated film Zero Dark Thirty, which offers 
a realistic and ostensibly accurate depiction of the hunt for Osama Bin 
Laden, the film-as-history is a fraught, problematic but ultimately deeply 
desired way of making sense of the past in modern America. The film opens 
with the somber titles 'Based on firsthand accounts of actual events, yet 
even senior US government officials remarked that it includes profound 


historical inaccuracies such as the claim that information extracted by 
torture led to locating Bin Laden. Despite the film's style of verisimilitude \ 
and its claim to veracity, the film's screenwriter defended its inaccuracies 
by insisting that 'It's a movie, not a documentary' 44 

What seems jarringly inconsistent in the ways of others somehow 
becomes natural and unremarkable when pointed out in ourselves. 
Whether in scripture or in the high and low registers of writing history, 
the Western tradition has often inclined toward utility at the expense of fact 
without a sense of having betrayed a commitment to truth. Similarly the 
Malaysian mufti warning about the dangers of Riba by citing an unreliable 
Hadith equating it with incest and the jenderami Pondok's broken chain of 
knowledge were not expressions of contempt for truth. The Qur'an made 
clear that Riba was a vile sin; the Hadith comparing it to incest merely 
communicated this to a distracted audience in an unforgettable way. The 
ulama of Jenderami had without a doubt received their training in Islamic 
law and Sufism in respected madrasas and from teachers who, via their 
own pedigrees of learning, enjoyed convoluted but unbroken chains of 
scholars back to the classical period of Islam. The chain of transmission 
on the school's wall simply encapsulated this in a convenient and appeal- 
ing form. Neither falsehood was tampering with the core areas of Islam or 
its history in the eyes of the ulama who produced them. They were 'just 
helping truth along.' 


Osama Bin Laden's missives left Western publics much more familiar with 
Hadiths of exhortation and warning than one might suppose. American 
fans of the television comedy Family Guy, late-night talk-show hosts and 
Danish newspaper readers have all chuckled nervously at the 'seventy- 
two virgins' that the late Al-Qaeda leader promised Muslim martyrs in 
Heaven. Often mistakenly cited as coming from the Qur'an, the promise 
of seventy-two huris, or 'dark-eyed heavenly beauties,' for each martyr 
is actually found in a problematic and unreliable Hadith of exhortation. 

The Qur'an certainly contains elaborate descriptions of Heaven. The 
book frequently speaks of 'Gardens under which rivers flow,' promised 
for those 'who believe and do good deeds.' They abound with 'gushing 


springs,' and those blessed with this abode recline on 'couches raised' and 
silken carpets with silver goblets and all the foods and fruits they could 
desire. They are paired with the huris (Arabic singular, hur al-'in), as well 
as with their earthly spouses. They never taste pain or death, and they 
are greeted with the call of peace. The Gardens of Paradise are an abode 
where space, wonder and pleasure are infinite, but time is collapsed into 
one eternal moment of bliss, when longing and fulfillment coexist in an 
unending oscillation between anticipation and achievement. Martyrs 
merit special reward. The Qur'an praises again and again those who fight 
and die 'in the path of God,' promising that they are not dead but rather 
'alive, given sustenance with their Lord' (3: 169). 4S 

From the time of their earliest polemics against Islam, Christians in the 
Near East and later the inheritors of the Western Roman Empire have been 
fascinated and disturbed by Islam's sexuality, in both its supposed excesses 
and its perceived perversions. As an eighth-century Byzantine emperor 
wrote, the Qur'an's alluring images of a 'Paradise' (like the Bible, the Qur'an 
uses the old Persian word firdaws) and 'Blessed Garden' abounding with 
rivers of milk and pure wine, brocaded couches, vines heavy with fruit and 
sexual mates could only suit a religion that sanctioned sexual excess in this 
earthly world as well. Later Western fascination with the carnal rewards of 
Islam's Paradise was an extension of Christian disgust with Muhammad's 
own sexuality and the sometimes licentious ways of the Ottoman sultans. 
For Europeans, Islam's Paradise was a heavenly harem to condemn with the 
same voyeuristic outrage as its earthly counterparts. Montesquieu could 
not resist mention of the love-slaves who awaited both male and female 
believers (indeed, ulama stated that women who had no husbands will 
have male huris created for them). The often prudish Gibbon interrupted 
his Decline and Fall to note how Muhammad had lured the Arabs of the 
desert into his faith with promises of 'seventy-two Houris, or black-eyed 
girls, of resplendent beauty, blooming youth, virgin purity, and exquisite 
sensibility...' Voltaire, in a more sympathetic moment, reminds us that 
promises of a carnal Afterlife were common in the ancient world. 46 

Whether Achilles, the Spartans standing at Thermopylae (retold most 
recently in the 2006 film 300), Beowulf (a 2007 feature film), the master- 
less samurai avenging their slain lord in the Treasury of the Loyal Retainers 
( Chushingura) or Will Farrell's accountant in the film Stranger Than Fiction 
(2006), throughout history men have sought what one of the three hundred 
Spartans calls 'a beautiful death' in order to find immortality in shared 


memory. In a secular age of nationalism, death for one's country, family 
or a just cause is deemed its own reward, though films eulogizing heroes \ 
usually provide a denouement that assures the audience that fallen protago- 
nists receive the public attention needed to guarantee the remembrance 
of their deeds. This may be a neo-pagan vestige of the ancient Greeks and 
Romans, for whom an afterlife in the shades of the underworld offered 
little comfort. Truly surviving death came from dying heroically and 
living on in the memory of generations of the living through 'the lords of 
song and story,' as Pindar sang. 'Even in death your name will never die,' 
Agamemnon confesses jealously in the underworld to Achilles, even as 
both of them rest in the disappointing gloom of the Elysian Fields. 'Great 
glory is yours, Achilles, for all time, in the eyes of all mankind.' 47 

Islam's idiom of commercial quid pro quo for describing the martyr's 
rewards (the Qur'an calls believers to 'lend God a goodly loan' with their 
lives and resources, to be repaid with beatific interest, 2:245, et al.) seems 
venal and selfish to many in the West. The Classical thirst for immortal- 
ity through glory however, was equally self-involved. The wise woman 
Diotama administers an elixir of realism in Plato's Symposium: 'Do you think 
that Achilles would have died for Patroclus... if [he] hadn't expected the 
memory of their virtue - which we still hold in honor - to be immortal?' 
Far from Troy's ruins, Aeneas finds fuel to inspire his men and urge them 
forward into further dangers. Stumbling across heroic images of themselves 
carved in temple reliefs that preserved in stone the already epic tale of the 
Trojan War, Aeneas tells them, 'This fame ensures some kind of refuge.' 48 

The Qur'an and Hadiths leave no doubt about Islam's paramount praise 
for martyrs and the rewards due to 'those who are killed in the path of 
God,' a cause that the Prophet defines as 'fighting so that the word of God 
might be supreme.' A bevy of Hadiths extended the category of martyr far 
beyond those who died in war. They list other causes of death that earn 
an individual the status of martyr: death from plague; stomach illness 
(like diarrhea); an abscess; tuberculosis; drowning; structure collapse; 
childbirth and its aftermath: someone killed for their money, their family 
or religion; someone who speaks truth to an unjust ruler and is killed or 
dies in prison; as well as anyone who stands alone for truth in corrupted 
times. 49 

The Hadith of the Seventy-Two Huris is one of many prophetic reports 
enumerating in tantalizing detail the pleasures awaiting martyrs in Heaven. 
Muhammad explains: 


The martyr receives six special rewards with God : he is immediately 
forgiven his sins; he sees his seat in Paradise; he is protected from 
the torment of the grave and the greatest terror of the Resurrection; 
he is given the crown of honor, whose ruby is greater than the world 
and all in it; he is given seventy-two huris as wives and allowed to 
intercede on behalf of seventy of his relatives. 

In light of the centuries of disapproval that this Hadith has elicited from 
Western critics, it seems supremely ironic that it is not reliable at all accord- 
ing to leading Sunni Hadith scholars (see Appendix IV). 

Like the Hadith equating the least form oiRiba with incest, the Hadith 
of the Seventy-Two Huris functioned to urge Muslims toward a goal already 
established firmly in the foundations of the Shariah. Along with dozens of 
other Hadiths enumerating the martyrs' many prizes, it often appeared in 
books on the virtues of jihad written during periods of heated conflict with 
non-Muslims on the frontiers, like the ninth-century raids and counter- 
raids between Byzantium and the Abbasid caliphate, or the height of the 
Crusades in the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries. As with the threat 
against engaging in Riba, the fact that the ulama lacked strong evidence 
tracing the Hadith of the Seventy-Two Huris to its supposed prophetic 
source provoked little concern. The Qur'an had already made clear the 
praiseworthiness of martyrdom and the existence of heavenly beauties, so 
what harm would come about if this particular Hadith and the additional 
details it offered proved to be untrue? As one Muslim cleric explained, 
it is like a merchant who undertakes a venture expecting to make a large 
profit but then makes only a modest one. No true harm has been done. 

Moreover, even if the Hadith of the Seventy-Two Huris were untrue, 
the heavenly rewards it listed represented only a fraction of the myriad 
blessings awaiting those who are accepted into the Gardens of Paradise, 
whether martyrs or not. One particularly carnal Hadith might seem less 
dignified than others, but it provides a glimpse into the frank exposition of 
Paradise's pleasures. The Prophet states, 'Indeed a man from those granted 
the Garden is given the potency of one hundred men for eating, drinking, 
sexual union and desire.' A Jew asked Muhammad, 'Does one who eats and 
drinks not feel the need [to use the bathroom]?' The Prophet replies, 'It 
leaves his body as sweat after his stomach has taken it in.' Hadiths overflow 
with hyperbolic imagery of the huris' otherworldly beauty. Their liquid 
dark eyes beckon in inviting contrast to their near-reflective white skin, 


which is softer than the membrane separating egg white from its shell and 
so fine as to be almost translucent. 50 \ 

Indeed, Hadiths enumerate so diverse and rich a list of rewards awaiting 
all believers in Heaven that the martyr seems to lose his or her premium. 
Even the least worthy denizens of Paradise will receive seventy-two 
wives, states a Hadith appearing only a few chapters after the Hadith of 
the Seventy-Two Huris in one canonical Sunni Hadith collection. This 
Hadith goes on to promise that this lowest class in Paradise will also receive 
'eighty thousand servants... and a pavilion of mother-of-pearl, emerald 
and ruby.' 51 The most reliable Hadith on rewards in Heaven according to 
Sunni Hadith scholars states that, of the foremost to enter Heaven, each 
man will have two wives, with an alternate and equally credible version 
adding that 'they do not urinate, defecate, wipe their noses or spit; their 
combs are of gold, their sweat of musk and the coals of their braziers are 
of Indian incense, and their wives are from among the huris...' 

Evaluating the reliability of all these Hadiths and reconciling them 
proved a lasting challenge for the ulama. The most encyclopedic Hadith 
scholar of the late medieval era, Ibn Hajar, noted all the various Hadiths on 
this subject (the most extravagant , which he warns has a very wtaklsnad, 
gives each man in Heaven five hundred huris in addition to four thousand 
earthly virgins and eight thousand earthly non-virgins). He reconciles and 
distills all these reports to reach a composite conclusion: each man has 
at least two wives drawn from the earthly believing women who enter 
Paradise along with him, with whatever remaining number of partners he 
receives being Heaven-created huris. At some point in the early centuries 
of Islam a purported Hadith appeared to assure Muslim women that they 
would be superior to any huri competitor due to their faith and the good 
deeds they had done in their earthly lives. 52 

Christian audiences were not the only ones disconcerted by the carnal 
descriptions of Heaven in the Qur'an and Hadiths. Medieval Muslim think- 
ers deeply influenced by the Near Eastern heritage of Aristotle and Plotinus 
rejected them because they believed such images fell far short of accurately 
describing the loftiness of heavenly bliss. Muslim 'Philosophers' (falasifa) 
such as the famous physician Ibn Sina believed that the prize attained 
by the righteous and enlightened after death was the soul's rejoining the 
divine realm. Those souls that had purified themselves in life through right 
action and acquiring wisdom would bask in the presence of divine beauty 
without the body's constraints, while those who had become attached to 


the appetites of their earthly bodies would suffer their deprivation. The 
pleasures of the Afterlife would be ethereal and intellectual. In fact, resur- 
rection on Judgment Day would exclude the body altogether. Of course, 
Muslim Philosophers believed heartily that the Qur'an was a revealed 
message from God. But it used corporeal language to describe Paradise 
not because it was accurate, insisted Ibn Sina, but because that was the 
only idiom that the masses would find appealing. 53 

The Islamic Philosophers were an elite group whose works and thought 
remained consistently controversial for the mainstream of Sunni Islam. 
Unlike the Sunni ulama, they did not hold obedience to God's law as an 
absolute command and the basic foundation of any Muslim's life. For 
Philosophers like Ibn Sina, the Shariah existed to guide the masses toward 
Aristotle's Golden Mean of virtuous behavior so that they might purify 
their souls. For those who had attained true understanding of the nature 
of reality, said Ibn Sina to his students, the letter of the law did not apply. 
Ibn Sina himself could and did drink wine because he had disciplined 
his soul, while the masses clearly must follow the Shariah prohibition on 
intoxicants. 54 

The most celebrated attack on those Muslim intellectuals who had 
adopted the cosmologies of Aristotle and Plotinus came from an eleventh- 
century Sunni scholar from Iran named Abu Hamid Ghazali (the namesake 
for the twentieth-century Egyptian reformist), who was so influential 
that he became known as Hujjat Al-Islam (The Proof of Islam). He listed 
among the Philosophers' most severe sins their suggestion that the duties 
of worship and the Shariah restrictions that applied to all Muslims did 
not apply to them (Ibn Sina might have struck too close to home - Lady 
Montagu would later hear her Ottoman ulama interlocutors excuse their 
own wine indulgence with the claim that 'the Prophet never designed to 
confine those that knew how to use it with moderation'). 55 

Even more egregious, however, was their denial of bodily resurrec- 
tion. Hujjat Al-Islam condemns specifically their denial that Hellfire and 
the Garden of Heaven were realities, along with such heavenly rewards as 
the huris. Ibn Sina and his cadre had no right, Hujjat Al-Islam objected, to 
limit the rewards and pleasures that God could grant His righteous serv- 
ants merely because the Philosophers considered them unbefitting. More 
importantly, the Qur'an and authentic Hadiths had made it abundantly 
clear that Judgment Day would involve the resurrection of both the body 
and soul. The Philosophers' argument that these descriptions must be 


interpreted figuratively, like Qur'anic verses on God's 'eyes' and 'hands,' 
was horribly flawed, Hujjat Al-Islam argued. First, unlike God's attributes^ 
there is nothing rationally impossible about God creating real Gardens and 
rra/heavenly mates for the believers in the Afterlife. Second, unlike phrases 
such as 'hand' and 'eye' that had a long history of metaphoric meaning in 
the Arabic language, the meticulous details provided about the Garden 
and Hellfire suggest, no figurative meaning. Taken with their opinion that 
God had employed these supposedly false corporeal descriptions only to 
lure the masses to believing in Islam, Hujjat Al-Islam concluded that the 
Philosophers were accusing God of nothing short of lying. It might be a 
Noble Lie, but any suggestion that God's revelation contained falsehood 
or manipulation was ascribing to the Divinity a heinous imperfection far 
below Him. s6 

At the root of the Sunni rejection of reading a concealed truth behind 
the Qur'an's depictions of the Afterlife was the looming terror of the 
Ismaili Shiites and their 'Inner' (Batini) reading of Islam's scriptures. Their 
sectarian and military threat to the Sunni caliphate was ever present in 
the many writings that Hujjat Al-Islam penned as a star professor in the 
vaulted halls of the Baghdad and Nishapur Nizamiyya madrasas, where 
he taught during his illustrious career. His own patron, the vizier Nizam 
Al-Mulk, fell before the dagger of an Ismaili Assassin. The threat was still 
palpable two centuries later in the many pages that Ibn Taymiyya devoted 
to rebutting Ismaili thought. It lay behind his vehement rejection of the 
distinction between an exoteric and esoteric reading of scripture as well 
as his denouncing Ibn Rushd's implication that the Prophet revealed 
varied levels of truth to different audiences. 57 Denying the literal reality 
of Heaven and Hell as portrayed in the Qur'an and Hadiths and instead 
claiming that they were superficial falsehoods tailored for the masses 
dovetailed dangerously with the Ismaili claim that the exoteric reading of 
the revelation obscured the 'Religion of Truth' known only to the Ismaili 
Imam and taught to his elect followers. If it were accepted that the evi- 
dent meaning of scripture could be set aside for an elite, inner sense on 
topics such as the nature of the Afterlife, the door to the Ismaili reading 
of scripture would be opened wide. 

Ironically, though they championed vigorously the Hadiths describing 
the pleasures and agonies of Heaven and Hell, Sunni scholars admitted 
that not even the clear texts of the Qur'an and Hadiths could convey any 
immediate understanding of these unseen realms. What the ulama insisted 


on was that believers affirm the truth of what God and the Prophet had 
revealed about the world to come. Its actual nature could never really be 
known in this life. Ultimately, the ulama admitted to an agnosticism about 
the actual nature of the 'Gardens under which rivers flow.' Al-Attas had 
come across the pseudo-Hadith that humans are asleep and only awaken 
upon death while reading the books of his beloved Hujjat Al-Islam Ghazali. 
The saying is one of the prime pieces of scriptural evidence that the great 
Persian divine had cited in his defense of the Islamic conception of the 
Afterlife against the Philosophers' cynicism about its carnal imagery. 
Hujjat Al-Islam, a towering jurist and theologian but not known for his 
accurate knowledge of Hadiths, used the report to prove that 'it is not 
conceivable to explain the heavenly realm while in this earthly domain 
except by expounding parables (amthal).' 5 * Like Lady Montagu's statues, 
words could never convey such images to those whose eyes had never 
beheld them. 

Even the basic realities about the world to come proved difficult to pin 
down. At one point after Muhammad's death, a group of men and women 
in Medina came to the Companion Abu Hurayra to resolve a debate: would 
there be more women in Heaven or more men? Abu Hurayra replied that 
there would be more women, citing as his evidence the Hadith that each 
man in Heaven would have two wives. 59 In subsequent centuries, many 
prominent ulama would uphold this same opinion, such as the Cordoban 
judge Qadi Iyad and the Damascus madrasa professor Nawawi. Another 
school of thought hesitated on the point due to another Hadith considered 
supremely reliable in which the Prophet said that the majority of the people 
of Heaven were the poor, while the majority of the people in Hellfire were 
women. This was not a hard problem to solve, explained Qadi Iyad: 'What 
emerges from all of this is that women are the majority of humankind.' 
Hence they can be the majorities in both abodes. 60 

Ibn Hajar responded to a more serious flaw in the position that more 
women entered Heaven than men. In another authentic Hadith, the 
Prophet states that T gazed into the Garden and saw that the least group 
of its inhabitants was women.' Ibn Hajar offers an explanation. It might 
well be that one of the narrators of this Hadith allowed his own under- 
standing to shape what he transmitted. He might have assumed that 
the above Hadith stating that the majority of the people in Hellfire are 
women meant that women must be the minority in Heaven. Of course, 
he replies, if women are the majority of the human race, then 'their 


greater number in Hellfire does not necessarily exclude their greater 
number in Heaven.' 61 \ 

In a sense, it was overly ambitious to demand concrete answers to 
such questions. How could minds that know only the earthly world parse 
descriptions that were no more than crutches for imagining an unknow- 
able realm? Only through metaphor could scripture constrained by human 
language and its lexicon of imagery convey glimpses of the unseen. Sunni 
discussions of the Afterlife thus frequently quote a report of God declaring, 
'I have prepared for my righteous servants what no eye has seen nor any ear 
heard nor what has ever occurred to a mortal heart,' and their affirmations 
of the ultimate truth of Heavenly rewards might end with the Companion 
Ibn Abbas' agnostic admission that 'There is nothing common between 
this world and the Afterlife but words.' 62 Whether martyrs received exactly 
seventy-two huris, or if the same reward awaited even the meanest believer, 
Hujjat Al-Islam explained that the Afterlife held countless echelons of 
reward and punishment to suit perfectly each person's faith and the deeds 
they did in life. The Qur'an had promised that 'for each and all there will 
be levels from what they had done, so that He might recompense them 
for their deeds. And none will be wronged' (46: 19). 

In this light it is easier to make sense of the seventy-thousand-winged 
bird into which a prayer for the Prophet would transmute according to 
the (baseless) Hadith in The Signs of the Good. In a famous commentary 
on the biography of the Prophet, the twelfth- century Andalusian scholar 
Suhayli offered an important clarification about the scriptural description 
of angels and their wings. In the context of otherworldly beings, features 
like wings cannot be understood literally. 'They are not what comes 
first to one's mind as the wings of a bird with feathers.' Instead they are 
metaphors for grandeur and ennoblement by God, 'angelic features that 
cannot be understood except by seeing them face to face.' This explains the 
Qur'anic verses describing angels 'with two wings, three or four' (35: 1). 
'How could they be like the wings of birds when no bird has been seen 
with three wings, or four, let alone six hundred, as Gabriel is described 
as having.' 'So this demonstrates that they are features whose modality 
cannot be grasped by the mind,' Suhayli concluded. 'No report [from the 
Prophet] appeared clarifying them. We are required to believe in them, 
but exercising our thought by speculating about their nature is of no use. 
At any rate, we are all close to seeing them in person.' 63 



Abraham told only three lies,' the Prophet said in an authenticated Hadith. 
When he was called to worship the idols of his people he claimed he was 
sick. When he finally destroyed those idols, leaving the largest one intact 
he told his interrogators sardonically that the biggest idol had done it 
Traveling to Egypt with his beautiful wife, he told the lustful Pharaoh, 
who might kill a husband for such a woman, that she was his sister. Muslim 
theologians exhausted themselves defusing the theoretical charge of a 
prophet lying. Abraham actually was sick - spiritually sick - because of his 
polytheist surroundings, some proffered. His accusation that the biggest 
idol had smashed the others was meant to be an absurd statement predi- 
cated on the absurd premise that idols can act, others proposed. Sarah was 
his sister in God's true religion. Truth has many registers. 

Sensitivity about the human mediums of God's revelation speaking 
falsehoods was understandable. But lying is hard to avoid completely. 
Muhammad had allowed deception in warfare and also permitted the white 
lies needed between spouses and for mending social fabric. Indeed, it is 
hard to make the argument that speaking falsehoods is always wrong. Many 
morally conscientious people hold that being truthful is the best policy, 
unless lying seems necessary to promote an unquestionably greater good 
or if the lie is of the minor, white variety. Both of these species are, in effect, 
Noble Lies. They are falsehoods told for a greater good, whether they are 
serious lies told for the preservation of life and property or insignificant 
ones used as social lubricant. 

Yet, as David Nyberg points out, the tradition of championing the 
absolute duty to speak the truth and condemning lies categorically has 
been a regular theme in Western moral philosophy. It has resurfaced in 
the post-philosophical field of psychiatry, where 'denial' and being 'out of 
touch with reality' are destructive or symptoms of illness while honesty 
to oneself and others is 'healthy.' 64 

Important figures in Western moral philosophy (and probably many 
psychiatrists) have rejected the claim that Noble Lying causes no appreci- 
able harm and have refused to excuse falsehood through euphemism and 
mental gymnastics. One objection to the Noble Lie holds that intentional 
deception is inherently evil and inexcusable regardless of what good is 
sought. Another objection finds nothing prohibitively wrong with speak- 
ing falsehood in and of itself. But it doubts whether any short-term good 


achieved through lying can outweigh the long-term damage to truth and 
trust that lying causes. \ 

It is easiest to insist that lying is always wrong and never excusable if 
one acknowledges metaphysical absolutes. Belief in a god who forbids 
lying and declares that 'the mouth that belieth slayeth the soul' (Wisdom 
of Solomon 1:11) made Augustine adamant that lying could never be 
condoned, even to save an innocent life. The transitory goods of this 
world mean nothing next to the love of God and a Christian's fate in the 
life to come. Since 'eternal life is lost by lying/ Augustine wrote, 'a lie may 
never be told for the preservation of the temporal life of another.' Surely 
one should not steal or commit adultery merely because it would extend 
one's life for a few moments. 

Augustine wrote his treatise on lying before he was a bishop in order to 
rebut those who claimed that Paul's public rebuke of Peter in Galatians II 
was not part of a real disagreement but rather an affected public perfor- 
mance meant to instruct their followers on the correct attitude toward 
gentiles - a Noble Lie. Augustine could not accept this. Falsehood and 
deception could never be part of true religious instruction. Nothing of 
this world was ever good enough to justify disobeying God, and the true 
worship of God could never be promoted with lies. 65 

Augustine's confident theism could not sustain a categorical prohibition 
on lying in the face of the agnosticism and skepticism of the Enlightenment. 
Immanuel Kant, however, effectively replicated Augustine's argument 
through the secular prism of reason and duty. Kant asserted that to be 
truthful in all one's declarations is 'a sacred and unconditionally com- 
manding law of reason that admits of no expediency whatsoever.' Applied 
to lying, his famous Categorical Imperative would lead to the conclusion 
that no individual can lie because if everyone in society were to do so the 
very eternal duty of truthfulness, on which all duties and social relations 
themselves are founded, would crumble. Critics mobbed Kant for being so 
dogmatic that he would, conceivably, not allow the owner of a house to lie 
to a murderer who had come to kill an innocent man who had taken refuge 
there. But this seemingly obvious excuse for lying is based on nothing more 
than our fallible suppositions about promoting good, Kant responded, and 
it neglects the absolute interests being damaged. The owner of the house 
could lie to the murderer and tell him that his intended victim was not 
inside, The murderer could leave and walk away, only to run straight into 
the victim, who might have fled out the back door of the house and into the 


street. A falsehood would have been uttered and the harm still not averted 
The results and ramifications of our actions are often beyond our ken, while 
the duty to be truthful is fundamental and obvious to all who ponder it. 66 

The Noble Lie could never be justified for Kant because he rejected 
the essential premises needed to justify it. For him, humankind's world 
consisted of the material reality he perceived through the senses and the 
inner world of cognition. There was no more profound reality for the 
Noble Lie to promote. And there was no loftier ethical truth that could 
justifiably constrain human freedom than the Categorical Imperative 
that had already proven lying inexcusable. It is fitting (and probably not a 
coincidence) that Kant also rejected with unvitiated scorn the very notion 
of a Guardian class empowered to tell the Noble Lie. The Guardians of 
European society had long kept their flocks shrouded in ignorance and 
superstition in order to render them placid and malleable, Kant observed. 
The future Enlightenment he dreamed of was nothing less than 'man's 
release from his self-incurred tutelage.' Individuals and communities may 
be imperfect and prone to error, but they must stumble forward in the 
quest for progress. A human being is a flawed creature who requires rules 
and structure in order to attain his own happiness and safeguard those 
around him, but any class of Guardians that claimed the right to oversee 
this structure would be just as flawed. 67 

Another objection to the Noble Lie is expressed in the Utilitarianism 
of John Stuart Mill. The British intellectual was irked by his opponents' 
assumption that Utilitarian ethics, which seek to promote the greatest 
amount of good for the greatest number of people, would lead to rampant 
lying as each person pursued his own benefit. This is the consequence, 
opponents argued, of a philosophy that places expediency over principle. 
Mill responded by reiterating that truly comprehending the benefit or 
harm done by an action requires looking beyond any short-term gains. The 
immediate, short-term good sought by a liar would, in fact, most likely not 
lead a Utilitarian to condone lying. Quite the contrary: what is expedient 
often threatens a rule or habit that promotes a much greater good in society. 
Mill gave telling a lie to save oneself from embarrassment as an example. 
It might seem expedient and beneficial to escape a moment of shame, but 
cultivating a respect for veracity brings far more good. It is, in fact, one of 
the greatest goods an individual can pursue, and weakening that respect 
for truthfulness is one of the greatest harms he can do. Beyond the scope 
of the individual, Mill explained that lying enfeebles 'the trustworthiness of 


human assertion/ an essential building block in relationships and a crucial 
ingredient for the existence of human civilization itself. There may well be \ 
instances in which telling a lie truly promotes greater good than telling the 
truth, but in that situation the benefit of the lie in question would have to 
be so great as to outweigh whatever damage it could do to the long-term 
sense of trust in society. 68 

The long-term harm that lying inflicts on the shared conventions of 
truthfulness necessary in society is the common thread running through 
the various criticisms of the Noble Lie. 'All heroic virtue rests on truth/ 
sang the poet Pindar with profound economy. Plutarch recounts that 
Solon sat through a new Athenian tragedy only to disapprove of the many 
lies represented in the plot. When the playwright replied that lies in such 
unimportant matters counted for little, the Athenian lawgiver retorted, 'If 
we encourage such jesting as this, we shall quickly find it in our contracts 
and agreements.' 69 This same theme underlies Augustine's metaphysical 
commitment to the idea of an absolute truth and is the silent premise in the 
enthymeme behind Kant's application of the Categorical Imperative: we 
cannot will for all people to lie because the resultingworld would be unbear- 
able. Augustine warns that, 'When regard for truth has been broken down 
or even slightly weakened, all things will remain doubtful' Kant observes 
that, though it might not be intended to harm, a lie always harms others 
or humanity in general 'inasmuch as it vitiates the very source of right.' 

Indulging in falsehoods about the past does similar damage to the 
integrity of history as a genre. In his second-century treatise on how to 
write history, Lucian of Samosata lambasted historians of his age for their 
sycophancy and transparent efforts to win patronage by flattering the 
powerful in their works. Not only does he find the historians he critiqued 
guilty of betraying a discipline whose 'only goddess is truth/ but he also 
predicts that they will be reviled 'by future generations for making all 
historical activity suspect by their exaggerations; Francis Bacon phrased 
this objection pithily. Lies are like alloys in coins, he wrote, 'which may 
make the Metall worke the better, but it embaseth it.' 70 


Visiting Baghdad on his way back from Hajj in the year 1 184, an Andalusian 
traveler attended a sermon of the most famous preacher of the day, held 


every Saturday near the caliph's palace. As Ibn Jawzi mounted the pulpit 
twenty Qur'an reciters, arrayed before the audience, began singing choice 
verses of the holy book, each group of two or three calling out and respond- 
ing to each other's recitations in antiphon rhythm. Then Ibn Jawzi rose 
to speak. As he began, he invoked the passages of the revelation that still 
echoed in the vaulted hall. Gradually he wove them together toward a 
crescendo of exhortation, threading them with the Prophet's words and 
his own prodigious learning. 'Hearts were struck with longing/ the visitor 
recalled, 'spirits melted with ardour, and the sobs of weeping resounded. 
The penitent raised loud their voices and fell on him like moths on a lamp.' 
Ibn Jawzi would recall later in life that thousands had repented at his hands, 
and thousands more had converted to Islam. 71 

Known as ' The Knight of the Pulpit' in his own time, history has remem- 
bered Ibn Jawzi not as a preacher but as one of the most accomplished and 
learned of the medieval ulama, a prolific Hanbali jurist, Sufi, Hadith scholar 
and historian. He was also an influential critic of the excesses of Sufism 
and popular religion. As a preacher, he was well aware of the advantages 
of employing Hadiths of exhortation and warning, but he was the most 
vocal opponent of what he saw as the rampant use of baseless fables and 
forged Hadiths by popular preachers. In fact, he wrote one of the earliest 
and most capacious reference books documenting forged Hadiths as well 
as a manual for those giving homilies and lessons. 

Although the large-scale acceptance of unreliable Hadiths was the 
dominant position among Sunni scholars, prominent opponents from 
within the ranks of the ulama objected, especially a cadre of conservative 
Hanbali and Shafi'i scholars rooted in the Hadith study circles of Baghdad 
and Damascus from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. Some of them, 
like 'the Sultan of the Ulama/ Ibn Abd al-Salam, and his student Abu 
Shama, focused their energies on the alarming consequences of circulating 
dubious or baseless Hadiths. Principally, they were being used to justify 
religious innovations that many ulama considered heretical, such as a 
special prayer known as the Prayer of Things Desired (Salatal-Raghaib). 
According to weak Hadiths, a Muslim who performed this prayer in the 
Islamic month of Rajab would be granted any wish. 

In addition to their attacks on specific heretical practices, the ulama 
who rejected the use of weak Hadiths also articulated principled objec- 
tions. These matched familiar notes among critics of Noble Lying else- 
where. They did not question the ulama's role as a Guardian class tasked 


with guiding the Muslim masses toward felicity in this life and the next. 
Rather, these critical ulama reiterated that part of this obligation was^ 
the preservation and propagation of the Prophet's authentic Sunna. The 
author of one of the two most revered Hadith collections in Sunni Islam, 
the ninth-century scholar Muslim bin Hajjaj of Nishapur, had written his 
famous Sahih because he had seen too many Hadith scholars obsessed 
with the quantity or rarity of the material they collected, boastfully read- 
ing it out to students or to mosque audiences with no concern for its 
authenticity. Muslim bin Hajjaj explains the dangerous crime committed 
by the collector of Hadiths who knows that material he is attributing to 
the Prophet suffers from some flaw in its chain of transmission and yet 
still presents it. 'He is sinning in that act, cheating the masses of Muslims, 
since it is not certain that some of those who heard these reports would 
not act on them.' 72 

Other opponents of using unreliable Hadiths reminded their colleagues 
that it was the absolute duty of the ulama to preserve the Prophet's words 
and precedent exactly as they were, not to offer to the masses whatever 
seemed helpful or appealing. The tremendous sin of 'lying about the 
Prophet of God' could not be euphemized. Scholars could propose all 
sorts of excuses that they were only using 'weak' Hadiths and not clear 
forgeries, but they had to consider the greater scope of the enterprise they 
were promoting. In a debate in Damascus over using unreliable Hadiths to 
justify the popular Prayer of Things Desired, Ibn 'Abd al-Salam reminded 
his opponents that 'being a means to lying about the Messenger of God, 
may God's peace be upon him, is not permitted.' 73 

One of the last great Muslim scholars of Andalusia, living in the surviv- 
ing Muslim mountain kingdom of Granada, pointed out the contradiction 
inherent in using unreliable Hadiths. The commitment to 'warding off 
lies from the Messenger of God' had been the raison d'etre for the Sunni 
science of Hadith authentication to begin with. If Muslim scholars were 
open to using Hadiths regardless of their unreliability, then what was the 
purpose of the intricate and highly developed system they had constructed 
over the centuries? 'For the heart of the matter is that it be established as 
reliable and doubtless that the Prophet, may God's blessings be upon him, 
actually said that Hadith,' wrote the Grenadine cleric. If Muslim scholars 
felt the need to invoke other sources of authority, whether compelling 
maxims or moving stories, they could certainly do so. But they could not 
quote the Prophet as their source. Ibn Taymiyya reminded those bent on 


attributing everything useful to Muhammad that, 'Much speech has sound 
meaning. But one cannot say "from the Messenger" for what he did not say ' 

Ibn Jawzi appreciated these principled objections to using unreliable 
Hadiths. Walking the lanes of Baghdad, taking in the sight of crowds gath- 
ered around mosque preachers and hearing the sincere but misguided 
petitions of confused laymen, what concerned the scholar most were 
the social and religious consequences of misrepresenting the Prophet. 
Sometimes he could not help but laugh at preachers bumbling through 
their pious forgeries. "The name of the wolf that ate Joseph was such-and- 
such,' a jovial preacher had announced once in the mosque. An attendee 
remarked that Joseph had not been eaten by a wolf. "Then it is the name 
of the wolf that didn't eat Joseph,' the preacher replied. Lying about the 
Prophet, though, was no joking matter. No good could come from lying 
or exploiting fatuous and false attributions to God's Messenger, wrote 
Ibn Jawzi in his treatise on weak Hadiths, especially for the purposes of 
exhortation and warning. Even a good cause is automatically undermined 
and delegitimized when the forbidden act of lying about the Prophet is 
committed in its pursuit. Ibn Jawzi observed how the Shariah courts of 
Baghdad heard cases in which wives complained about their husbands 
neglecting them after some Hadith promising an outrageous reward for 
asceticism had led them to wander like a dervish for weeks. When ulama 
included forgeries in their Hadith collections with the ostensible excuse 
that a reader could evaluate the chain of transmission himself, they were 
deluding themselves. This was like using counterfeit coin in the market, 
Ibn Jawzi explained, on the untenable assumption that ordinary folkwould 
be able to authenticate every coin before accepting it. 

Most worrying for Ibn Jawzi was how using weak or forged Hadiths 
that promise outrageous rewards or punishments for certain actions 'ruins 
the scales of the significance of actions.' Taking up the Hadith equating the 
least sort of Riba with incest, Ibn Jawzi first demonstrates its unreliability 
by pointing out the damning flaws in its Isnads. Apart from shortcomings 
from the perspective of Isnad criticism, however, Ibn Jawzi insists that 
'what truly refutes the authenticity of the Hadith is that the magnitude of 
sins is known by their effects.' 'Fornication corrupts lineage and relations, 
he explains, 'shifting inheritance to those who do not deserve it.' Did the 
least severe forms of Riba really have this same moral weight or inflict such 
social harm? 74 Ibn Jawzi beheld the effects of such Hadiths in Baghdad. 
He cites the specific case of storytellers in the city advocating a special 


type of prayer, the Prayer of Disputants, which they claimed the Prophet 
promised would nullify all a person's sins if performed. Now Baghdad w%s 
filled with rank-and-file Muslims who thought that stealing was no serious 
matter since this special prayer would wash them clean of the act. 75 

The Hadith martinets of the Hanbali and Shafi'i schools in Baghdad 
and Damascus in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were forerun- 
ners of the revivalist tidal wave of the eighteenth century and the Salafi 
movements of the twentieth. Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, the iconoclastic Yemeni 
scholar Shawkani and the family of Shah Wali Allah embraced the strict 
rejection of using unreliable Hadiths. Restricting any reliance on weak 
or dubious: Hadiths became a hallmark of both traditionalist Salafis like 
Ahmad Shakirand modern reformists likeMuhammad Abduh. For Salafis 
in Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia, lapsinginto an acceptance of unauthen- 
ticated attributions to the Prophet had been a disastrous misstep that had 
led the Muslims astray into popular superstition, like the belief that the rose 
was created from the sweat of Muhammad, and cultural accretion, like the 
forged Hadith warning: 'Beware of a flower growing in manure, namely 
a beautiful woman from a bad family' For Western-oriented reformists 
like Abduh, shedding the baggage of weakHadiths held a twofold appeal. 
It helped delegitimize Sufi 'superstitions,' such as venerating saints and 
glorifying the Prophet, which so clashed with Protestant and European 
rationalist sensibilities. It also reduced Islam's overall scriptural exposure 
and cut down the extent to which the Shariah and pious customs perme- 
ated all areas of life. 

The Salafi precept that the great ship of Sunni Islam had veered off 
the scriptural course set by the first generations of Islam, and the modern 
reformist conviction that modernity was snapping Muslims out of their 
medieval slumber, enabled a re-evaluation of the mainstream Sunni laxity 
toward Hadiths in both these ideological camps. As a result, they arrived 
at many of the same conclusions that Ibn Jawzi had more than seven 
hundred years earlier. 

Yusuf Qaradawi and Muhammad Ghazali, both Muslim Brothers at early 
stages in their careers, the first with a Salafi inclination, the second with 
modernist leanings, spoke alike of 'clouds of weak Hadiths obscuring the 
horizons of Islam' at the expense of the 'purifying truths brought by God's 
messenger.' Qaradawi recalls with despair how during a sermon given on 
the occasion of the Prophet's birthday, of all the many Hadiths and sto- 
ries about Muhammad that various speakers had invoked, only two were 


reliable. He concludes that, even if the great scholars of the past had not 
realized it, allowing unreliable Hadiths like the one on Riba into Muslim 
discourse 'ruins the relative status that the all-wise Lawmaker assigned to 
different obligations and acts.' Every act of worship, good deed or sin, he 
continues, has its own 'cost' in God's eyes. The proper cost is set forth in 
the Qur'an and authentic Hadiths, and Muslim communities destroy their 
own moral compass when they degrade those sources with base fable. 76 

There is in the revivalism and reformism of ulama like Shakir, Qaradawi 
and Ghazali something strongly reminiscent of the anticlericalism of the 
English Deists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as well as their 
Enlightenment successors like Voltaire. These contemporary Egyptian 
scholars certainly identify themselves as ulama, but their desire for revival 
or reform is premised on a disappointment with the historical failures of 
that Guardian class and its manipulation of the masses. Kant observed 
the clear consequences of the religious impositions of Europe's priestly 
Guardian class. Terrifying their flocks with sermons about the Afterlife 
and ushering them through rituals and catechisms, the clergy constructed 
a unified religious society, but it was one built on manipulation and not on 
understanding. 77 The eighteenth-century revivalists like Shah Wali Allah 
and modern-day ulama like Ghazali and Qaradawi write constantly of this 
same crisis and the need for Muslims to reacquire the power of real faith by 
returning to the scriptural sources of Islam instead of relying on stagnant 
tradition. The great eighteenth-century Islamic revival movements were 
often 'anticlerical' in that they could not challenge practices like seeking 
intercession at the graves of saints without undermining the authority of 
the mainstream Sunni ulama who had justified them for centuries. Salafi 
paragons like Shah Wali Allah's grandson Shah Ismail Shahid used printing 
presses to direct cheap, accessible attacks on popular 'heresies' directly to 
the masses, arguing that anyone could understand Islam's simple message 
of untainted monotheism. 

Conversely, it is no surprise that those modern ulama like Ali Gomaa 
who remain confident in the unbroken, unchanged historical continuity of 
Sunni Islam stand by the medieval acceptance of unreliable Hadiths. Yusuf 
Nabhani, a Levantine cleric and a Shariah judge in the Ottoman courts 
before the empire fell, defended this principle with unprecedented vigor. 
He devoted five years to compiling a thick tome on the virtues of calling 
God's blessings down upon Muhammad, listing the sound Hadiths and 
defending the unsound ones such as those found in The Signs of the Good. 


Shaykh Ismail Daftar, an Al-Azhar cleric and the imam who preaches the 
Friday sermon at Cairo's oldest mosque, affirmed the Sunni principle \ 
that one cannot firmly attribute an unreliable Hadith to the Prophet. Yet 
such Hadiths can still be invoked as lessons. Who knows, Daftar insists, 
what wisdom they might hold? A baseless Hadith that Ibn Hanbal once 
heard a preacher recite in a mosque quoted the Prophet saying, 'Whoever 
says "There is no god but God," God creates from that word a bird with a 
golden beak and feathers of pearl, with seventy thousand tongues, each 
tongue with seventy thousand words, each invoking God's forgiveness for 
that person.' Even if no evidence exists for the Hadith's reliability, Daftar 
explains, we now find that when a person testifies to God's unicity on 
television his voice might appear on seventy thousand screens in seventy 
thousand homes. 78 


Ghazali once recalled that, when he was teaching in Algeria, an alarmed 
student had asked him if the ulama of the past had really declared authentic 
the Hadith of the Prophet telling how, when the Angel of Death had come 
to take Moses' life, the Hebrew prophet had knocked the Angel's eye out. 
Ghazali told the student that his anxiety over the Hadith was a distraction. 
Could he not see the real threats to the Muslim Umma, that 'the enemies 
of Islam are encircling us'? In any case, he added, this Hadith did not deal 
with a tenet of faith or any core element of Islam. 79 

The veteran Egyptian preacher knew well what lay behind the student's 
query: could a Hadith really be true if it required a Muslim to believe that 
a prophet of God such as Moses would resist his fate, or that a human 
could knock out an angel's eye? What did these seemingly absurd beliefs 
say about the tradition that had declared such Hadiths authentic? Modern 
ulama and Muslim activists have regularly found themselves in Ghazali's 
place, trying to ease tensions between Islam's scriptures and modern reali- 
ties and thus preventing young Muslims from falling into the same trap 
as skeptics like Sidqi and Abu Rayya. Why are the majority of people in 
Helifire women? Why does a Hadith quote Muhammad as saying that 'I'll 
not leave behind me among you a source of strife more harmful to men 
than women,' and another that the Day of Judgment will not come before 


'You [Muslims] fight the Jews, to the point that a Jew will hide behind a 
boulder, but that rock will say, "O servant of God, there is a Jew behind 
me, come kill him!"?' 80 

Ghazali chose to dodge the student's question because the Hadith 
about Moses and the Angel of Death, along with all the above Hadiths, 
comes from one of the Sahihayn, the two authentic Hadith compilations 
of Bukhari and Muslim bin Hajjaj that Sunni Islam has long declared the 
most reliable books after the Qur'an. The standards for examining the 
chains of transmission and authenticating Hadiths employed by these 
two authors became the definitive canon of rigor and excellence in the 
Sunni discipline of Hadith verification. Although for centuries Muslim 
scholars had freely noted minor flaws in the two books, in the nineteenth 
century the pervasive anxieties over the validity of Islam in the face of 
the West catapulted the canon of the Sahthayn to the level of the sacred 
and unimpeachable. Defending the two books against skeptics like Sidqi 
or the Partisans of the Qur'an was more than just defending a reliance 
on prophetic scripture over modern and Western sensibilities. It was a 
desperate defense of the very foundations of the Sunni religious heritage. 

It was not that the Sahihaynwere actually the Hadith sources for Sunni 
law and dogma - the madhhabs had their own bodies of Hadiths that 
predated the Sahihayn. Rather, what was at stake when the two books 
were criticized was the methods that Bukhari and Muslim bin Hajjaj had 
used to compile their two books and the ulama consensus that stamped 
them with canonical standing. The Sahihayn exemplified the Sunni sci- 
ence of Hadith criticism, and they were the embodiment of the claim 
that Sunni Muslims had identified a core body of authentic Hadiths that 
encapsulated the Prophet's true teachings. This was the very pillar of the 
Sunni approach to scripture and the key to the sect's authority. Admitting 
a flaw in the books or, worse, in the methods of their compilers was to 
call into question the soundness of a religious heritage that was already 
fighting for its survival. Zaid Shakir, a leading American Muslim imam, 
recognized this instinctively. Tf you knock out Sahih Bukhari, you knock 
out the Shariah,' he once noted. 81 

Addressing the Algerian student's nervous query in one of his books, 
Ghazali offered his readers numerous interpretations from medieval ulama 
for the Hadith of Moses and the Angel of Death (for example, the angel 
had appeared to Moses in human form, and the prophet mistook him for 
an ordinary assailant). But what interpretation could plausibly mitigate a 


Hadith stating that, as the Day of Judgment draws near, Muslims will fight 
the Jews until even rocks and trees betray those Jews seeking refuge behind} 
them? Does this not sow seeds of religious hatred and excuse violence? 

Whether the Hadith of Moses and the Angel of Death, that of the 
Seventy-Two Huris or that of the Rocks and the Jews, all of these reports 
belong to the genres either of Hadiths of exhortation and warning, Hadiths 
about Endtime or Hadiths about the virtues of famous believers. Even the 
notorious Hadith of the Devil fleeing flatulently from the sound of the call 
to prayer is located in the chapters of the Sahihayn on the 'Virtues of the 
Call to Prayer.' Along with the Hadiths about women tempting men and 
the number of women in Heaven, these Hadiths are all found in the chap- 
ters of Hadith collections devoted to 'Good Manners (Adah),' 'Niceties of 
Behavior (Riqaq, Raqa'iq), 'Temptations and Apocalyptic Strifes (Fitan),' 
or "Virtues' of prominent believers. 

This raises an important possibility that scholars like Ghazali overlooked 
in their efforts to reconcile authoritative scripture with modern expecta- 
tions. Sunni scholars have for more than a millennium conceptualized the 
corpus of Hadiths as being embodied and organized in discrete containers, 
namely books of Hadiths like the Sahihayn. When the ulama of the tenth 
and eleventh centuries needed manageable and authoritative references 
for Hadiths, they invested a canon of six respected Hadith books with 
authority. In the modern period, when the ulama felt their scriptural tra- 
dition under unprecedented threat, it was this very same canon of books 
whose authenticity had to be defended at all costs in order to protect the 
scriptural integrity of Islam itself. When early skeptics of Hadiths like Abu 
Rayya attacked specific Hadiths, ulama responded by touting the Sahihayn's 
stamp of canonical authority; a Hadith could not be criticized because it 
was in Sahih Bukhari and was thus above reproach. Later generations of 
'Qur'an only' advocates and Hadith skeptics thus made the Hadith canon 
itself their target, as the Moroccan intellectual Khadija Battar did in a series 
of highly critical newspaper articles in 2002 to 2003 (later combined into a 
controversial book, On Criticisms of Bukhari: AMan Veiledfrom the Truth).* 1 

Early scholars like Bukhari, however, had not conceptualized the 
authenticity of Hadiths in terms of books and authors. They had associ- 
ated Hadiths with their transmitters, and they determined the degree 
of critical attention that each Hadith deserved according to its subject 
matter. Those formative Sunni ulama who had actually sifted through 
the Hadiths in circulation and compiled the canonical Hadith collections 


had explained openly that they treated Hadiths differently based on their 
topics. Hadiths on the virtues of actions or individuals, on the apocalypse 
on manners and on exhortation were only subj ected to lax authentication 
Hadiths on the core areas of Shariah law and explicit tenets of theology 
were evaluated stringently. 

This policy is one of the oldest and best-attested practices in Sunni 
scholarship. A self-identified Sunni of the ninth century and an author of 
one of the canonical Hadith collections provides proof of this method in 
application. Tirmidhi was unique in that he rated each Hadith he included 
in his collection. We see that Tirmidhi's chapters on subjects that Sunni 
ulama considered pillars of the Shariah include relatively few reports to 
which he gives a poor rating, such as might result from a weak narrator 
or a lack of corroboration. Only 17 percent of the Hadiths in the chapters 
on tithing (Zakat) and the Ramadan fast are rated poorly, and only seven 
percent in the chapter on inheritance law. Chapters on topics outside the 
core areas of ritual and legal obligation fare far worse. Tirmidhi points out 
noticeable flaws in the reliability of 27 percent of the Hadiths in his chapter 
on etiquette and 35 percent in the chapter on apocalyptic strife presaging 
the world's end. The percentage exceeds 50 percent in the chapters on the 
virtues of various early Muslims and pious invocations. 

The Hadith of the Rocks and the Jews was attested by the most respected 
early Hadith narrators, widely transmitted and corroborated at every level 
of its chains of transmission. From the perspective of Sunni Hadith criti- 
cism, it was above reproach. But the fact that it was viewed as a Hadith 
about the dramas of Endtime means that it might still be unreliable. All 
available evidence suggests that the earlier Hadith transmitters that a col- 
lector like Bukhari relied upon as sources for Hadiths shared the approach 
of treating reports they heard with two very different critical lenses, 
depending on their topic. When Bukhari decided a Hadith was sound, it 
was because it came via a chain of narrators who could be trusted to have 
passed on information reliably from their sources. But if every link in that 
chain of reliable narrators each passed on Hadiths on dividing inheritance 
much more carefully than Hadiths like that of the Rocks and the Jews, 
then that chain of narrators actually consisted of two separate channels 
of different quality, one stringent and one lax. 

This is not to suggest that an exacting collector such as Bukhari dropped 
his requirements in certain chapters of his book, as Tirmidhi clearly did. 
Bukhari's and Muslim's collections attained their paramount status because 


their authors limited their contents only to Hadiths that each scholar felt 
met the highest criteria of reliability. There does not seem to be a sigV 
nificant difference in the reputations or dependability of the transmitters 
that Bukhari relied on in chapters of his collection on the issues that early 
Sunnis considered core and those that were normally treated in a more 
relaxed manner. 83 Rather, my suggestion is that the two-tiered system of 
laxity versu s stringency was a systematic feature of Sunni Hadith transmis- 
sion and criticism. We could draw an analogy to security screening at an 
airport. In theory, the security staff follow specific rules for checking pas- 
sengers and their luggage using the same scanners and a unified procedure. 
But if every member of the security staff, from ID checkers to scanner 
operators, decided to subject elderly ladies to an absolute minimum of 
examination, then the passengers passing through the security checkpoint 
would in reality be moving through two very different levels of scrutiny, 
one for old ladies and one for everyone else. This would be the case even 
if, and the analogy here is to Hadith collectors like Bukhari and Muslim, 
an airport sought to employ only the best scanning equipment and the 
most competent security personnel. 

judging Hadiths not solely by the reputation of the books that include 
them but also according to whether their sub j ect matter would have merited 
rigorous versus lax criticism from classical Hadith scholars could provide 
enormous benefit today. It could reconcile the traditional methods of Sunni 
Hadith criticism with many reformist objections to the contents of Hadiths 
like the Devil Farting and Moses punching the Angel of Death. Because the 
vast majority of problematic Hadiths like these fall within the genres that 
the scholars who developed the Sunni method of Hadith criticism did not 
feel actually warranted its full application, it would be possible to accept 
most of the critiques leveled by the likes of Sidqi and Abu Rayya without 
challenging the overall value of the Sunni Hadith tradition. 


Before he was killed in a Damascus mosque in 2013, Muhammad Sa'id 
Ramadan Buti was the most famous member of the Syrian ulama. An 
accomplished Shafi'i jurist, former rector of the Shariah College at the 
University of Damascus and a strong supporter of Sufism, in an interview 
he once recalled his own father's death many decades earlier. Buti's father 


had been an admired Muslim cleric, and after his death Buti recounted how 
his father suddenly became the center of numerous miracle stories. Legends 
circulated in the neighborhood about the angelic presences and portents 
of God's favor that appeared at his father's deathbed. "When the people 
love a pious person,' Buti remarked, 'they invent miraculous stories about 
him.' Buti certainly did not want to contribute to the disenchantment of 
the world. He acknowledged that such saintly miracles were possible and 
that tales of them might well nourish religious devotion in some folk. He 
inclined toward the Hanafi position on such matters: if people wanted to 
believe random stories of saintly miracles, they could. Disbelieving them, 
however, was no sin. Yet Buti also recognized the dangers. 'Ultimately,' he 
concluded, 'the negative consequences of these stories are greater than 
their positive ones.' 84 

A population that believes stories merely because they are useful or 
warm the heart places expedience toward an end above a commitment 
to demonstrable truth as a common reference meaningful to all individu- 
als regardless of their religious beliefs. A community that accepts Noble 
Lying wholeheartedly is likely to drift into gullibility, uncritical of what 
it is told and vulnerable to manipulation. Fear of such an eventual fate lay 
behind much of Ibn Jawzi's disapproval of using unreliable Hadiths. In the 
Baghdad of his day, pious falsehoods drew people down a slippery slope 
toward damaging asceticism and manipulation by fraudulent Sufi saints 
and charlatans. Buti shared such worries in the twenty-first century. 

It mattered little that the ulama who purveyed unreliable Hadiths 
claimed they provided ample warning about the dubious authenticity of 
the reports. Research on consumer opinion and marketing suggests that 
Ibn Jawzi was prescient in his analogy to circulating fraudulent coins on 
the market. Studies on how people pass on information or impressions 
demonstrate that, while attitudes and opinions are primary beliefs that 
tend to survive communication from person to person intact, the certainty 
or doubt about those attitudes or opinions tends to be lost along the way. 85 
If one person tells another person, 'It may be that this car model performs 
poorly,' the second person will likely only remember and pass on in turn 
the impression that 'This car model performs badly.' The more stages of 
transmission there are, the less nuance survives and the closer what may 
have originally been a qualified statement comes to being a certainty. 

It is tempting to ascribe the absurd credulousness displayed at times 
in the Muslim world to some feature of Islamic religious culture. In the 


spring of 2012, for example, as presidential elections loomed in Egypt, 
Mubarak's loyal lieutenant Omar Suleiman announced his candidacy. 
Foreshadowing the dumbfoundingly bloody counter revolution that would 
grip Egypt a year later, when an interviewer asked Suleiman how he had 
procured the forty thousand signatures needed to enter the race in a mere 
twenty-four hours, he replied without a hint of irony, 'It was a miracle 
brought about by divine assistance.' 86 In the summer of 2012, even intel- 
ligent and well-informed Egyptians expressed shock at how the Muslim 
Brotherhood-dominated parliament had proposed a law allowing "The 
Farewell Intercourse' - a husband would have the right to have sex with 
his dead wife up to twelve hours after her death. This was, of course, totally 
untrue. Parliamentary sessions were all televised, and no such proposal 
occurred (needless to say, the act would also be prohibited by the Shariah). 

Ignorance even among the educated, however, is not the monopoly 
of any one culture. Americans are prone to equally absurd if less prurient 
conspiracy theories. In 2012, almost four years after he began his term 
as President of the United States, and despite his weekly church attend- 
ance, fully 17 percent of the American electorate believed Barack Obama 
was Muslim. 87 Yet the pathways of religion are uniquely perilous in their 
slippery slopes toward gullibility. Societies in which religion pervades 
and plays a wide-ranging role can find their fabric laced with dangerous 
naivete. The willingness to suspend normal rules of disbelief in the case 
of matters religious comes from the submission to the supernatural that 
faith and scripture demand. Describing the difference between Homer's 
fabrications in his epic poems and the stories of the Bible, Erich Auerbach 
explains that Homer never requires his audience to believe that any of his 
fantastic stories of gods intervening crassly in the lives of men are true. 
In contrast, biblical pericopes like Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac require 
all involved, from the narrator to the audience, to believe in their utmost 
truth. Scripture does not 'court us' with the possibility of historical truth, 
like Homer. Scriptures 'seek to subject us.' 88 

So scripture subjugates. While true scripture might do so rightly, 
apocryphal scripture is a false idol, sometimes an opiate and at other times 
a tribulation. Unreliable Hadiths can cause harm at numerous levels in 
society, from facilitating illegitimate violence to masking its true drivers. 
The testimonials of Muslim suicide bombers regularly cite the Hadith of 
the Seventy- Two Huris as a motivation or consoling reward. This feeds 
the Western stereotype of Islam as carnal, venal and backward. Media and 


viewing publics pay more attention to the now infamous seventy- two vir- 
gins than they do to the substantive political or socioeconomic injustices 
that the bombers also mention as impetus for their actions. 

Many times Muslim university students in the United States have 
expressed to me the confusion and concern they felt after hearing the imam 
of their mosque quoting their Prophet equating the lightest form of Riba 
with incest. Sitting in the audience during the Friday-prayer sermon at a 
prominent African-American mosque in Chicago in 2003, 1 heard a huff 
of incredulity from a man seated near me as the imam read out the same 
Hadith that Shaykh Daftar mentioned about the wondrous, thousand- 
winged, lingua-feathered birds God purportedly creates out of words of 
praise for Him. In some distant time and place, this Hadith might have 
motivated Muslims to improve their faith and practice. But not on that 
day, in Chicago, with that man. For him, the Hadith sounded absurd and 
chipped away at his confidence in Islam's scriptural tradition. 

Why should that man, or any Muslim, suffer even a moment of anxiety 
due to a Hadith that none of the ulama has ever labeled as anything other 
than forged? Dubious Hadiths of admonition and encouragement, along 
with fanciful prophecies of Endtime, once had a place in Islam's imposing 
scriptural edifice. In an era characterized by skepticism toward scripture 
writ large, however, they have become a liability. Even a traditionalist 
like Kevseri could see the dangers in indulging in the Noble Lie. Those 
contemporary Muslims who sought to promote or defend Islam with 
baseless claims and attributions to the Prophet were 'destroying a gar- 
rison to build a hut,' he warned. 89 Explaining the Hadith of the Rocks and 
the Jews, Ibn Hajar suggests that the rocks and trees speaking might be 
figurative - meaning that the Jews will have no place to hide. But, as in the 
case of the Hadiths of the Seventy-Two Virgins and Riba, why should any 
interpretive capital be wasted or minds bent in labor to find explanations 
for what is most likely ersatz scripture? 


In the summer of 2007 I asked one of my teachers, a young Yemeni Sufi 
master, about ulama citing unreliable Hadiths. Tt may be that they are 
mentioned to make the point in an appealing way,' he replied. At the time 


we were sitting over lunch in the lively Indian Ocean port of Mukalla, 
white thobes stretched over bent knees or purple-and-chocolate-striped 
sarongs folded between them, eating chilled potato and pineapple salad 
before piling into the massive SUV to ply the route inland from the Yemeni 
coast. We followed the road across the lunar landscape from which eons of 
rain had carved the giant rivulets that converge like tree roots into green, 
irrigated tributary ravines. The road drops down their banks, shrubs 
sprouting where biblical frankincense and myrrh were once harvested, to 
the rocky ravine beds below. There, rainwater scours the valley floors annu- 
ally before soaking in and making life possible. Eventually these tributary 
branches, with their scattered ancient villages, lead into the broad Wadi 
of Hadramawt, so expansive and patched with green farm plots that one 
forgets that this flood valley and the floods themselves ultimately vanish 
into the dead yellow sands of Yemen's inland desert. 

We passed from town to town along the flood-valley network. From 
Hajrayn to Shibam, their fantastic mud-brick, medieval skyscrapers jab- 
bing up into the sky from rock promontories perched on the valley walls, 
to the sprawling settlement of Sayyun and eventually Tarim at the valley's 
narrow inception. This great valley is the heartland of the Ba'alawi Sufis. 
It is also their domain. Even as night fell and the Yemeni soldiers at their 
checkpoints grew more alert and suspicious, they waved our car past when 
they saw among our party the white turbans of the Habayib, the scholars 
descended from the Prophet who lead the Ba'alawis and who form the 
religious elite of Hadramawt and Indian Ocean Sufism. 

In every town we visited venerable Habayib ulama. We were fed and 
listened to poems praising God and the Prophet before we implored the 
aged scholars to share some of their 'Urn with us. 'You are all that remains,' 
the young Sufi scholar plied the elders over and over, 'those great ones 
who came before bequeathed their 'ilm to you before they departed.' 

The then nonagenarian Ali bin Muhammad Al-Attas (note the last 
name) brought out the weathered turban of his teacher, Abdallah bin Umar 
Shatiri, who taught for fifty years at the Sayyun madrasa and produced so 
many students that it is said that all the scholars in the Indian Ocean basin 
from Yemen to Malaysia are either his students or his students' students 
(the Jenderami ulama included). In the tiny village of Amd we paid our 
respects to Safiyya, then a woman of 105, who lay diminutive and feeble 
in a cot in her mud hut, all but her eyes veiled in thin black muslin. We 
took turns holding her hand through the sheet as she prayed and greeted 


us, occasionally raising her finger to point up and rasp defiantly, T n the 
presence of the Prophet ! ' Her children had long since died of old age, and 
she alone remained of those who had heard the guidance of Ba'alawi Sufi 
saints from three generations ago. She too passed away in 2008. 

In Mukalla, Habib Hamid bin Sumayt, himself well over ninety, received 
us in his home and asked his servants to bring out a tray of dates and water. 
Each one of us approached him in turn and he placed a date in our mouth 
and gave us a sip of water. He recounted his chain of sacred knowledge 
back through Yemen's Ba'alawi masters to Iraq, then to Medina and to the 
Prophet of God himself. Just as he had given us dates and water, so had 
he received them from his shaykhs, they from theirs, all the way back to 
Muhammad. Habib Hamid recited the Hadith repeated by every link in that 
chain after serving dates and water: the Prophet said, 'Whoever receives 
a believer as a guest, it is as if he has received Adam as a guest; whoever 
receives two believers, it is as if he has received Adam and Eve; whoever 
receives three, it is as if he has received the angels Gabriel, Michael and 
Israfil...' and so on. 

No one in the gathering felt any need to question the authenticity of this 
living Hadith. It had no relation to the rulings of the Shariah or to Islamic 
theology. The Baraka, or pious blessings, of this smiling old shaykh inspired 
us and warmed the hearts of his guests. We all felt incorporated into an 
intimate bond with the Arabian prophet of fourteen centuries past. In 
time, we will feed dates and water to another generation and recount the 
chain of connection, brought into the present with our names added on 
at the end, in turn. No one in the gathering noted or thought to care that 
this living Hadith was actually forged by an eighth-century figure named 
Abdallah Qaddah. As one medieval Hadith critic explained, 'The telltale 
signs of forgery are manifest with this Hadith, but the ulama of Hadiths 
still pass it on out of a desire for blessings and with good intentions.' 90 

Like all 'friends of God,' the Ba'alawi Sufi masters understand that 
they are His instruments, and that He can work miracles at their hands 
at any time or place of His choosing. Over the centuries they have sought 
to observe the fundamental Sufi maxim, most often neglected in Sufism's 
medieval decadence, that saints should conceal their miracles so that lay 
folk might not misplace their adoration. The Ba'alawi masters came to 
Hadramawt from Iraq in the late tenth century and moved on to the distant 
Indian Ocean lands beyond carrying the message of their Prophet. One 
of the fourteenth -century Habayib would travel from region to region in 


Yemen, and wherever he would settle his Baraka would bring miraculous 
rains and productive harvest. The people would come to love Islam, and \ 
the saint would move on. 91 From Yemen to Singapore, the gravestones 
and mausolea of the Ba'alawi saints stand as signposts and loci of the 

As night fell we at last neared our final destination, Tarim, the narrow 
valley heart of the Ba'alawi order. The young scholar leading us recounted 
experiences with his own Sufi master, the late 'Abd al-Qadir Saqqaf. The 
two had once left a Sufi gathering and, as teacher and disciple were getting 
into their car, a layman rushed up to Abd al-Qadir, closed his door for him 
and issued a protracted plea for the shaykh to pray for him. Abd al-Qadir 
listened kindly and assented. As the man walked away, the shaykh told his 
young disciple, 'Can you open the car door for me, the man closed it on 
my hand.' 'God is most wondrous,' the young Ba'alawi scholar recalled, 
'Shaykh Abd al-Qadir knew how upset that man would be if he found 
out he had closed a beloved saint's hand in a car door.' At Shaykh Abd 
al-Qadir 's hands the supernatural was natural,' he continued fondly, 'but, 
as we say, consistent righteousness is the greatest miracle.' 

Over the centuries it has been common in the Sufi tradition to adduce 
innumerable miracles to saints. One famous thirteenth-century Egyptian 
Sufi was said to have lived so supernaturally long that he had prayed behind 
Shafi'i himself, though the madhhab founder had died almost five hundred 
years earlier. One day, one of the saint's students decided to ask his master 
the truth about this story. 'Yes, I prayed behind Shafi'i,' he replied, 'when 
the great mosque of Cairo was just a donkey market and where the city is 
today was just reeds.' 'Behind the Shafi'i? !' the student begged. The master 
lay back and laughed, 'In a dream, my son, in a dream.' 92 


When Scripture Can't Be True 

Not lightly should you transport aluminum trays of oily Pakistani 
food in the back of your mother's car. This was one of many 
lessons I learned as part of the Muslim Students Association 
(MSA) in university. Though tragically not reflected in catering, a glorious 
diversity has generally characterized attendance at MSA events across the 
varied campuses of North America's colleges and universities: the second- 
generation children of Hyderabadi physicians suffering toward medical 
school themselves, well-heeled scions of Syrian engineers from the Midwest 
on break from serial brunching, African- American Muslims bemused by 
immigrant angst, occasional pompously coiffed upper- crust Pakistanis 
expiating sins incurred while clubbing and the odd Saudi exchange student 
committed to bringing order to this religious soup. 

When the Muslim Students Association national organization was 
created in 1963, its founding members were predominately Iraqi and 
Lebanese graduate and undergraduate students in the US. They were all 
confident proponents of the transnational 'Islamic activism' inspired by 
the Muslim Brotherhood, committed to creating an environment where 
Muslims could live Islam actively and nurture their faith. Their objective 
has been tempered by time and circumstance, but it still animates MSA 
activities today. Whether due to family pressure, a personal attachment 
to Islam, a desire for familiar surroundings or an admixture of the above, 
the students who organize and attend MSA events are those who have 
chosen at one level or another to struggle toward an understanding of 
what it means to be Muslim in a modern and sometimes hostile West that 
is often the only home they know. 

At Georgetown University in the late 1990s, the MSA met all the 


needs of Muslim students, from serving sunset meals during Ramadan to 
organizing Friday prayers and, of course, planning the annual Eid Dinner.^ 
Mounds of greasy biryani or shawarma meat, rice and the perennially 
and inexplicably undressed 'salad' would diminish as lines of Muslim and 
non-Muslim students passed over them like so many coed ants before 
settling in folding metal chairs to listen to the annual Eid speaker. Invitees 
ranged from Muslim and non-Muslim specialists on Islam to respected 
American and international imams. They usually addressed the contro- 
versial issues of the day and the challenges that Muslims faced in the 
West and worldwide. 


In 1997, a well-known Muslim professor of East African descent was 
invited to address the issue of Islam and human rights at the Eid Dinner. 
He championed the compatibility of these two sets of values, which per- 
turbed some of the more conservative students. Universal rights that did 
not originate in Islamic scripture might contradict it, forcing Muslims to 
choose one or the other. A student rose to challenge the speaker. Their 
exchange became heated and quickly crystallized into the clash between 
the hypostatized forces of 'modern human rights' and 'traditional religion.' 
It centered on a simple question that epitomized the crisis of scripture 
in the modern world: did Islam allow husbands to beat their wives? This 
question struck at the core of how Muslims understand their scriptures, 
since a passage of the Qur'an addressing the responsibilities of husbands 
and wives ends with the following commands: 

Thus the righteous women are those devout and obedient ones, 
guarding what God has commanded them to guard. And those 
women whose nushuz [egregious disrespect and dereliction] you 
[plural] encounter, admonish them, leave them alone in their beds, 
and strike them. If they then obey you [plural], seek nothing further 
against them, indeed Godis highest and great. If you [plural] fear a 
breach between the two, then send an arbiter from his family and 
an arbiter from hers. If the couple wants resolution, God will grant 
them success in this, for indeed God is most knowledgeable and 
aware of all things. (4:34-35) 


When the student asking the question accused the speaker of granting more 
weight to modern values than to God's direct commands, the professor 
could contain his outrage no longer. 'Are you suggesting that, in this day 
and age, men should beat their wives?!' he thundered at the student. In 
the awkward pause that followed, a few hardy souls still sipped chai and 
spooned rice pudding. 

A year later, a wholly different speaker addressed the MSA Eid Dinner. 
Instead of an academic clad in a suit and tie, a young shaykh of Syrian 
ancestry, dressed in a simple white robe and a white kufi cap, approached 
the podium. He opened his speech by narrating a Hadith to the audience, 
tracing at length its entire chain of transmission, scholar by scholar, from 
himself back to the Prophet. When he had finished, he explained that this 
painstaking exercise was meant to remind the audience of the unbroken 
chain of tradition by which the knowledge of God's revelation and the 
Shariah has come down across the centuries in the hands of the ulama. 
During the question -and-answer period, this speaker too was asked how 
Muslims should make sense of what is sometimes simply referred to as 
"The Wife Beating Verse.' He replied that, contrary to what is widely 
believed, the Shariah in no way condoned a husband striking his wife. 
He pointed out that the Arabic verb taken to mean 'strike' or 'beat' in 
the verse, daraba, had been incorrectly interpreted. God could not have 
intended this meaning because it would have contradicted the conduct 
of the Prophet, whom well-known Hadiths described as never having 
struck any of his wives in any way. Daraba was used in numerous other 
ways in the Qur'an, he continued, some much better suited for the verse. 
One usage of the word was also found in a Hadith in which the Prophet 
explains a rule about business partnerships by expounding a parable of 
passengers together in a boat. A careless person in the lower part of the 
boat starts to drill a hole in the hull so that he can access water without 
climbing above deck. The Prophet describes how the other passengers 
should 'strike upon his hand' to stop him.* As with these imperiled pas- 
sengers, the young shaykh explained that the verb daraba in the Qur'anic 
verse is thus really an instruction for a husband 'to do whatever is physically 
necessary to rectify the situation' and save his wife from bringing about 
the demise of the marriage. 1 

* This Hadith can be found in Sahih Bukhari and elsewhere, but I have found no 
version that uses the verb daraba. Rather, all versions use the phrase 'take up their 
hands' {akhadhu 'ala aydihim). 


The professor and the shaykh were delivering the same message. Both 
rejected categorically the evident meaning of Qur'an verse 4:34, refusing 
to accept that Islam's sacred scripture could condone domestic violence. 
But the approaches and appeals of the two speakers differed dramati- 
cally. The first speaker attacked tradition from outside it, appealing to the 
authority of 'this day and age.' The second mounted a defense of tradition 
from within, deriving authority by acting as an indigenous and trusted 
bearer of sacred knowledge. The first speaker, in effect, defied the text of 
the Qur'an, restricting it to its pre-modern origins by admitting its anach- 
ronism and breaking the yoke of tradition. The second speaker claimed 
that there was no contradiction between the Qur'an and modern justice. 
There was no anachronism, just misunderstanding. It was the ulama, the 
qualified interpreters of God's law, who could point this out and resolve it. 

From one perspective, the professor's cry of rage against the failure 
of scripture to meet modern expectations of justice was emotionally 
gratifying. But it offered no solution to the quandary of Qur'an 4:34. His 
audience of Muslim students was left with the choice between a belief that 
the Qur'an was the infallible, universally relevant and authoritative word 
of God, or demoting it to being yet another titular 'holy book,' exposed 
as containing as much shameful anachronism as godly wisdom and finally 
put in its proper place by the march of progress. The shaykh, by contrast, 
offered a spirited reconciliation that invigorated the students' hope that 
the religion they had been taught since childhood was the truth really was 
and always had been, carried and kept alive by the ulama. He offered them 
the possibility that there was no contradiction between the justice within 
revelation and justice outside it as we understand justice today. 

Yet the young shaykh's conciliation of scripture and modernity was 
an illusion. His claim that the Shariah had never allowed a husband to 
strike his wife was false. It was a desperate attempt to avoid the rub of the 
crisis, namely that interpreting daraba as 'to beat' meant affirming, to one 
degree or another, that God was validating a husband striking his wife. But 
it was impossible to choose another meaning for the verb daraba with- 
out overturning sound Hadiths and over a millennium of interpretation, 
undermining the very pillars of the scholarly tradition that guaranteed the 
intactness of Islam as a whole. Unlike the secondary scripture of Hadiths, a 
Qur'anic verse cannot be dismiss ed as historically unreliable or overlooked 
as an isolated anomaly. It is unavoidably the word of God. Qur'an 4:34 is 
thus the ultimate crisis of scripture in the modern world. 


Both the professor and the shaykh had precedents in their efforts to 
distance Islam from the evident meaning of Qur'an 4:34. A more con- 
sistent and better-supported version of the young shaykh's problematic 
explanation came from the Saudi Islamist intellectual Abd al-Hamid 
Abu Sulayman in 1998. Removing any validation of spousal abuse from 
Qur'an 4:34 required breaking completely with the precedent of tradition. 
Unlike the young shaykh at the Eid Dinner, Abu Sulayman acknowledged 
this. Centuries of Muslim scholarship on the verse had missed the mark 
and had to be cast aside entirely. Reconsidering the specifics of how the 
ulama had interpreted the word daraba, however, did not mean rejecting 
the Shariah. Rather, it meant fulfilling it as a comprehensive set of values, 
Abu Sulayman insisted. Like Ghazali's arguments about women heads of 
state, Abu Sulayman based his interpretation of Qur'an 4:34 on Muslims' 
duty to pursue the 'aims of the Shariah (Maqasid al-Shariah)' even if it 
meant breaking with consensus on the law's details. In the case of family 
life and marriage, Islam's overarching and abiding objectives were affection 
and mercy. Violence and intimidation contradicted these, so understand- 
ing 4:34 as advocating striking one's wife was impossible. 2 

Seeking a reading of daraba that did accord with the themes of affec- 
tion and mercy, Abu Sulayman identified seventeen meanings in which 
the verb is used in the holy book. The one that fits best with the context 
of 4:34 is the meaning of 'withdrawing from, leaving and abandoning.' In 
other words, if after admonishing his wife and then sleeping in a separate 
bed, the husband finds that she has still not rectified her behavior, he leaves 
the marital home entirely. This was, in fact, what Hadiths described the 
Prophet doing in Medina when his wives' conduct had so disappointed 
him that he almost divorced them. 3 As for the sound Hadiths in which the 
Prophet supposedly teaches his followers that husbands can beat their 
wives but only 'in a light way that leaves no mark' (ghayr mubarrifi), Abu 
Sulayman suggests that these reports were corrupted in the process of 
historical transmission and may actually be the comments of a later scholar, 
not the words of the Prophet. 4 

The professor's railing against the Shariah status quo, in turn, echoed 
the position taken by another American Muslim intellectual, none other 
than the same Dr. Amina Wadud who led the controversial Manhattan 
prayer in 2005. In a book entitled The Qur'an and Woman first published 
in 1992, Wadud stated her intention clearly. The Qur'an had always been 
read and interpreted by men, whose interests and patriarchal society had 


stained the authoritative understanding of the revelation. She proposed 
breaking with tradition, both the fraught corpus of Hadiths and the com- \ 
manding consensus of the male ulama, in order to reread the Qur'an from 
the perspective of a woman who sought liberation through God's religion 
of mercy. Though she offered no concrete alternative readingfor the verse, 
Wadud proposed that the verb daraba had meanings other than 'to strike' 
that could well apply in Qur'an 4:34. 

Writing a second book in the wake of the Manhattan prayer, Wadud 
staked out a more radical position. She rejected unreservedly any inter- 
pretation of Qur'an 4:34 that preserved its evident meaning, in her words, 
saying 'no' to the sacred text. This was all she could do, Wadud confessed, 
at those few seemingly insoluble points in Islam's scripture that are 'inad- 
equate or unacceptable' no matter how much interpretive energy is poured 
into them. 5 


The tragedy of domestic violence against women is far too common 
worldwide for any one religion or scriptural passage to be its cause. In 
Nigeria, a country that straddles deep religious and ethnic fault lines, a 
survey found that 74 percent of Muslim women considered it acceptable 
for a husband to beat his wife in certain circumstances. But so did 52 per- 
cent of Christian women and 64 percent of women adhering to African 
religions. Social science theories for explaining the global phenomenon 
of spousal abuse run a wide range, but they converge on socioeconomic, 
factors. Some focus on economic adversity and the challenges it presents 
to men's status expectations. Others find the roots of violence in women's 
economic disempowerment and the vulnerable position in which it leaves 
wives who rely solely on their husbands. 6 

Culture matters a great deal too, especially in societies with strong 
strains of machismo. In some Muslim societies, there is evidence that some 
men justify violence against their wives by citing Qur'an 4:34. For many 
people, then, Islam's scripture shares the blame. Despite efforts to find 
alternative interpretations of the verse, for these critics its problems are 
unresolvable because it is as unambiguous as it is repugnant. As Wadud 
plainly lays out, taken at its prima facie meaning, the verse advocates a 
practice that she can only describe as 'archaic and barbarian' in our time 


and according to how we understand justice today. Whatever interpretive 
gymnastics are performed, the Qur'an literally tells a husband to strike his 
wife. Even if we indulge apologetics that propose some deep alternative 
meaning for the verse, we are still left with the troubling question of why 
God would say something whose intended meaning differed so dramati- 
cally from its literal one. 

Here we must remember, however, that there is no such thing as 'literal 
meaning' in its usual sense of 'what a text really says.' We often assume 
that, however much we differ on interpretations, a statement or text has 
an obvious and objective 'literal' aspect that preserves an unchanging core 
of meaning and cannot be escaped. We assume that we can isolate this 
stable, stand-alone meaning using the dictionary definition of its words 
and by removing it from any context. What we might term the 'dictionary 
meaning' of a text may indeed exist, but it is neither objective nor univer- 
sal. As generations of Shakespeare readers have found, the definitions of 
words are not at all stable. They are shaped and reshaped by the speakers 
of a language as the language evolves. The bard's 'silly women' in The Two 
Gentlemen of Verona were 'innocent,' not foolish. In a more recent example, 
when Lauren Bacall asked Charles Boyer 'Are you making love to me?' in 
a 1945 film, she only meant 'flirting.' 7 

'Literal meaning' is also commonly understood as the meaning that 
makes sense to us with the least interpretive effort. Put simply, it is the 
first coherent meaning that comes to mind. Better termed 'evident mean- 
ing,' as the Muslim legal theorists called it (Zahir, or 'outward'), this is 
not necessarily the same as the dictionary meaning. When a thief points a 
gun at you in a dark alley and growls, 'Give me all your money' your mind 
immediately passes over the fact that, literally, 'all your money' includes 
everything in your various bank and investment accounts as well as other 
liquid assets you might own. You understand instantaneously that he only 
means the contents of your wallet (and maybe non-money items like your 
watch as well). 

But like the dictionary meaning, evident meaning is also subjective. 
It is determined by context and by a tradition of symbols and veteran 
assumptions shared by what Stanley Fish has called the 'interpretive com- 
munity' to which the reader or hearer belongs. 8 That evident meaning is 
not universally obvious or undisputed is clear when courts in the US and 
UK feel the need to refer to how a 'reasonable person' in those societies 
would understand speech or art in or der to d etermine if it is defamato ry or 


obscene. Unlike minority or idiosyncratic interpretations, this hypotheti- 
cal 'reasonable person' is imagined as epitomizing the proper thinking ^>f 
the interpretive community in question. The obliquity of evident mean- 
ing has been a boon to comedy writers, as seen in films like Airplane! and 
The Naked Gun franchise (Banquet doorman: 'Your coat, sir?' Detective 
Drebin: 'Yes it is, and I have the receipt to prove it'). 

The evident meaning of a text seems obvious to those within an inter- 
pretive community, but, as Detective Frank Drebin illustrates, moving 
from the dictionary meaning to the evident one requires significant, if 
unnoticed, interpretive steps. In evident (i.e., 'literal') meaning, these 
unnoticed steps are those assumptions that the reader leaves unstated 
because he or she assumes everyone else shares them. Frank Drebin is so 
humorous because he is clueless about them. A tough noir cop supposedly 
ensconced in society and its hard-boiled dialogue, he is comically outside 
its interpretive community. He is oblivious to the understanding that you 
should leave your coat at the door at a fancy party; that the doorman is 
there to serve you; that you will be spoken to according to an etiquette 
that assumes you are used to being served. 

Ironically, the unstated assumptions that many readers today would 
generally see as encasing the 'literal meaning' of 4:34 were shared by 
none of the pre-modern ulama. They are, in fact, totally foreign to the 
Islamic tradition. Reading the verse as an unambiguous legitimization of 
spousal abuse assumes that the Quran should be read in isolation and that 
duties should be derived from it unmediated. Yet no pre-modern Muslim 
school of thought ever advocated that (except perhaps the early Kharijite 
extremists), and Islamic modernists who claim they do this today cannot 
manage to do so consistently. On the contrary, Muslim sects agreed that 
the Qur'an had to be read through the prism of the Prophet's teachings 
as expounded by the ulama, who then disagreed endlessly on what those 
teachings should be. 

The ulama who articulated the Islamic tradition, as Amina Wadud cor- 
rectly observed, were men. Taken as a whole, however, their reading of 
Qur'an 4:34 was characterized by neither the interests of patriarchy nor 
what is sometimes imagined to be an untempered indifference to violence. 
Rather, the most salient theme in the ulama's writings across the centuries 
has been one of restricting almost completely the apparent meaning of the 
verse. This seems to have appeared with the first, infallible interpreter of 
God's revelation, the Messenger of God himself. Canonical Sunni Hadith 


collections quote the Prophet at first teaching his followers: 'Do not strike 
the female servants of God.' Only when his lieutenant Umar complained 
about Medinan women disrespecting their husbands (as opposed to the 
more submissive Meccan wives to whom they were accustomed) did 
the Prophet allow hitting them. The Hadith continues, describing how a 
wave of seventy (i.e., many) women subsequently came complaining to 
the Prophet about their husbands. This led him to declare that those men 
who beat their wives 'are not the best of you,' adding, 'The best of you will 
not strike them' in some versions of the Hadith. 9 

The canonical Sunni Hadith collections also include recollections of 
the Prophet's Farewell Sermon, given on Hajj in what would be the final 
year of his life. One of the parting pieces of wisdom he leaves his follow- 
ers is the commandment to 'Fear God as concerns your womenfolk, for 
indeed you took charge of them with God's assurance.' The Prophet further 
explains that only if a wife allows herself to converse with men against 
her husband's wishes or, in another version of the Hadith, commits some 
grievous transgression (fahisha mubayyina, a phrase with sexual innuendo) 
can the husband strike her, and then only 'with a light blow that leaves no 
mark.' 10 Another sound Hadith has the Prophet further discourage striking 
one's wife, imploring his followers, 'Would one of you beat his wife like a 
slave and then sleep with her at the day's end?'" 

All available evidence of Muhammad's own conduct shows a complete 
aversion to domestic violence. As recorded in the canonical Hadith col- 
lections, Aisha recalled that 'The Messenger of God never struck anything 
with his hand, not a woman and not a slave, except when making war in the 
path of God.' 12 One Hadith that lacked any chain of transmission reliable 
enough to merit inclusion in Hadith collections but that was preserved in 
Qur'anic commentaries from the ninth century evokes a tension verging 
on unease over God's command in 4:34. When the Prophet's condemna- 
tion of a husband striking his wife is overruled by the revelation of the 
Qur'anic verse, the Prophet purportedly admits: Twanted one thing and 
God wanted another. And what God wants is best.' 13 

The vast majority of the ulama across the Sunni schools of law inher- 
ited the Prophet's unease over domestic violence and placed further 
restrictions on the evident meaning of the 'Wife Beating Verse.' A lead- 
ing Meccan scholar from the second generation of Muslims, Ata' binAbi 
Rabah, counseled a husband not to beat his wife even if she ignored him 
but rather to express his anger in some other way. Darimi, a teacher of both 


Tirmidhi and Muslim bin Hajjaj as well as a leading early scholar in Iran, 
collected all the Hadiths showing Muhammad's disapproval of beating^ 
in a chapter entitled 'The Prohibition on Striking Women.' A thirteenth- 
century scholar from Granada, Ibn Faras, notes that one camp of ulama 
had staked out a stance forbidding striking a wife altogether, declaring it 
contrary to the Prophet's example and denying the authenticity of any 
Hadiths that seemed to permit beating. Even Ibn Hajar, the pillar of late 
medieval Sunni Hadith scholarship, concludes that, contrary to what seems 
to be an explicit command in the Qur'an, the Hadiths of the Prophet leave 
no doubt that striking one's wife to discipline her actually falls under the 
Shariah ruling of 'strongly disliked' or 'disliked verging on prohibited.' 14 
It became received opinion among Sunni ulama from Iberia to Iran that, 
though striking one's wife was permitted, other means of discipline and 
dispute were greatly preferred, more effective and better for the piety of 
both spouses. As another thirteenth-century An dalusian scholar observed, 
nowhere in the Qur'an besides 4:34 and in listing the Hudud punishments 
does God command believers to punish a person violently. Just as the 
Hudud punishments were meant more as signs of the grievous nature 
of certain offenses than as sentences to be enacted, so the command to 
strike a wife was intended to communicate the severity of her behaving 
disgracefully towards her husband, not as a license for domestic abuse. 15 
The substantive laws that the Sunni schools of Shariah articulated over 
the centuries followed this same mitigating course. If a wife exhibited 
egregious disobedience (nushuz) such as uncharacteristically insulting 
behavior, leaving the house against the husband's will and without a valid 
excuse or denying her husband sex (without medical grounds), the husband 
should first admonish her to be conscious of God and proper etiquette. If 
she did not desist from her behavior, he should cease sleeping with her in 
their bed. If she still continued in her nushuz, he should then strike her to 
teach her the error of her ways. Shafi'i law only allowed the husband to 
use his hand or a wound-up handkerchief (mindil malfuf), not a whip or 
stick. All schools of law prohibited striking the wife in the face or in any 
sensitive area likely to cause injury. All except some Maliki jurists held that 
the wife could claim compensation payment (diya) from the husband for 
any injury she sustained, and Hanbalis, the later Shafi'i school as well as 
the Maliki school, allowed a judge to dissolve the marriage at no cost to 
the wife if harm had been done. In effect, any physical harm was grounds 
for compensation and divorce since the Prophet had limited striking one's 


wife to 'a light blow that leaves no mark.' Causing any injury thus meant 
that a husband had exceeded his rights. All schools of law agreed that if the 
wife died due to a beating, her family could claim her wergild or possibly 
even have the husband executed. 16 

That Qur'an 4:34 was not understood as a legal license is affirmed 
by how medieval ulama interpreted a provocative, if poorly attested, 
Hadith: A man is not asked why he beat his wife.' They understood this 
primarily as part of the etiquette of privacy between men; people should 
mind their own business. This did not outweigh public duties and legal 
protections, though, and the principle of not asking was qualified by the 
phrase 'if there is no need to do so.' The magnet of Shafi'i legal thought 
in the eastern lands during the thirteenth century, Abd al-Karim Rafi'i, 
remarked that one interpretation of this Hadith was that it referred only 
to the Day of Judgment. Thus, a man giving an accounting of his deeds 
before God might not be asked to justify having once struck his wife. This 
was not God's law on earth, however. In this life the Shariah punishes the 
husband for his act according to its regulations. 17 

Like the problematic knots of underage marriage and polygamy, 
Qur'an 4:34 has been a thorn in the side of the ulama since they first felt 
the condescending gaze of Western critics. They have negotiated a relation- 
ship with the verse and the medieval interpretive heritage using a variety of 
schemes, some venturing further out from the penumbra of tradition than 
others. Reformists like Abu Sulayman remain bound to tradition only by 
the elastic threads of 'the aims of the Shariah.' They argue that all Muslim 
scholars have fundamentally misunderstood the Qur'anic verse and that 
this misreading went so far as to corrupt their authoritative records of the 
Sunna as preserved in the Hadith collections. According to them, striking 
one's wife was simply never intended by God's revelation. 

Khaled Abou El Fadl, an Egyptian- American professor trained both 
in American law and at the hands of ulama, makes an argument similarly 
rooted in 'the aims of the Shariah.' His is bound more closely to classical 
Islamic legal theory than Abu Sulayman's, and he uses the framework of 
Usui al-Fiqh to extricate contemporary understandings of Islam from the 
predicament of 4:34. As in the cases of the Hadiths on killing apostates 
and the Prophet condemning his own father to Hell, the different grades 
of epistemological certainty needed to admit a transmitted report as evi- 
dence provides a means to bypass even authenticated Hadiths. Abou El 
Fadl concludes that the Hadiths allowing beating simply do not provide 


the epistemological heft needed to overrule the Shariah priorities of the 
preservation of life and honor as well as the Islamic values of mercy ai}d 
beauty. These are the themes we see exemplified in the Prophet's own 
treatment of his wives. Abou El Fadl does not deny that Qur'an 4:34 
includes an instruction to strike one's wife, but he uses another instance in 
the Qur'an (4: 128) that refers to nushuz as well as the Prophet's testimony 
to his followers during his Farewell Sermon to argue that the only situa- 
tion in which a husband may hit his wife is if she has committed zfahisha 
mubayyina, a gross act of sexual betrayal. 18 

In contrast to these reformists, the traditionalists who uphold the 
undiminished relevance of Islam's pre-modern heritage resolve the issue 
of Qur'an 4:34 by emphasizing the role of the ulama as the guardian class. 
It is they who should decide how the message of God and the Prophet 
should be applied in any one place and time, and it is they who must medi- 
ate between the Muslim masses and the revelation. Already implicit in the 
medieval ulama's explanations of 4:34 was the notion that physical violence 
was just one option for disciplining wives. Not only was it 'disliked' as an 
action in God's eyes in all but exceptional circumstances, it might also 
prove ineffective with many women. A twelfth-century Shariah judge in 
Seville named Ibn Al-Arabi, who had traveled east to study in Baghdad, 
instructed his students that people are not all the same in how they should 
be disciplined. A slave might be hit with a stick,' the judge noted as an 
analogy, 'while with a free man it's enough to point it at him.' 19 

Ali Gomaa has built on this theme in a small book of fatwas recently 
written for women. He took the standard late Shafi'i school position that it 
is not recommended for a man to strike his wife and that he must pay her 
compensation for any injury he causes. Men who truly want to follow the 
model of the Prophet would never beat their wives. Gomaa tries to preempt 
the question asked by many Muslims today: why would the Qur'an include 
this dangerous command at all? "The Qur'an came for all humankind,' 
Gomaa explains, 'for every time and place, and every kind of people that 
there will be until the Day of Judgment.' Though unpalatable in the West, 
there are some cultures, Gomaa contends, where a woman will not heed 
her husband unless he uses physical force against her - in fact, she sees this 
as proof of her husband's manliness (Gomaa gives his native Upper Egypt 
as an example). Ultimately, Gomaa concludes, harmful abuse of women 
is unacceptable in any situation, and men who seriously abuse their wives 
are ignorant of Islam's teachings. As they have in the past, Muslims must 


continue to turn to the ulama for proper instruction about their religious 
rights and obligations. The learned guardians will take the universal law 
of the Shariah and adjust it for particular settings so that its overarching 
aims are achieved. They will also use reminders of the Prophet's example, 
like "The best of you [men] will not beat women,' to effect gradual change 
in cultures where domestic violence is tolerated. 20 

Another crucial point underlies Gomaa's fatwa. It assumes that, though 
it might be reviled in many cultures and unacceptable in many circum- 
stances, striking one's wife is not inherently wrong. 21 What is uniformly 
condemnable is what transgresses the legal red lines drawn by the Shariah, 
which apply regardless of the mores of one community or epoch. Causing 
physical injury to anyone, wife or not, is an offense that carries legal 

Two generations before Gomaa began his tenure as Egypt's Grand 
Mufti, another denizen of the late Ottoman ulama world found himself serv- 
ing in the religious bureaucracy of a rapidly secularizing state. Muhammad 
Tahir Ibn Ashur served as a judge on several Shariah tribunals in Tunisia 
after the French pried the colony from weakened Ottoman control. He 
hailed from a prominent ulama family that had settled in Tunis after fleeing 
the Spanish Reconquista and was blessed with a remarkably long career, 
living from 1879 to 1973. Among the many honored posts he held, the 
scholar served as the senior Maliki Mufti of Tunisia and the Rector of the 
ancient Zaytuna Madrasa, the country's premier center of Islamic learning. 

Ibn Ashur was a product of the same bureaucratized Ottoman ulama 
culture that allowed the state substantial prerogative in shaping the applica- 
tion of the Shariah on issues such as restricting marriage age. He was also 
inspired by Muhammad Abduh's call to construct an Islamic modernity 
that could compete with the West. It is no surprise that Ibn Ashur followed 
his fellow clerics in Istanbul, Cairo and Damascus in granting religious 
approval to what turned out to be open-ended legal reforms imported from 
the West. They culminated in 1957 when Tunisia's Shariah courts were 
eliminated, ironically not by French colonial rule but by the newly inde- 
pendent country's first president, the militant secularist Habib Bourguiba. 
Though he bore this assault on the Shariah patiently, like Tantawi and 
other establishment ulama, Ibn Ashur had his limits. National law could 
not unquestionably contradict the Shariah. In 1960 Bourguiba pushed 
the venerable scholar too far when he gave a speech calling on Tunisian 
workers not to fast during Ramadan because it harmed productivity. The 


president spoke too soon when he claimed that Ibn 'Ashur, along with 
the senior Hanafi Mufti, would allow this. Instead, the Hanafi Mufti flatly \ 
denied this in a published fatwa, and Ibn 'Ashur announced on the radio 
that 'God has spoken the truth and Bourguiba has spoken falsehood.' Both 
scholars were dismissed from their posts. 

Ibn Ashur's interpretation of Qur'an 4: 34 uses the discretion and execu- 
tive role granted to a Muslim state to disarm the verse's dangers. Like his 
pre-modern predecessors, Ibn Ashur understands the verse as providing 
alternatives suited to the different kinds of societies and individuals that 
the Qur'an might address. The commands in the verse are thus directed 
at whatever authority can carry them out most effectively, whether the 
couple themselves, their families or the Shariah court. In a novel turn, 
Ibn Ashur argues that the sole addressee of 4:34 and 4:35 was the court 
authorities. In most societies, he explained, no license can be given to 
husbands to discipline their wives violently. This is clear if one applied 
Shariah procedure at a family level, for only in exceptional circumstances 
can a person involved in a case also act as the judge who decides guilt and 
metes out punishment. In addition, experience shows that husbands cannot 
be trusted to restrain themselves in private. Even if they are told that they 
can only use light blows, husbands will inevitably 'quench their anger' and 
'in all likelihood transgress the limits.' In urbanized societies and modern 
states, which enjoy functioning legal systems, Ibn Ashur suggests that 
the whole verse is addressed to the state and the organs of the court. The 
authorities (wulat al-umur) are obligated to announce that any man who 
beats his wife will be punished and assign the duty of disciplining wives 
to the courts alone. It is the Shariah court judge who hears complaints of 
a wife's unacceptable conduct. If she is guilty the judge admonishes her, 
separates the couple if necessary and finally orders a beating administered 
should she refuse to reform." 


Of course, some medieval Muslim scholars saw no complication with 
following the evident meaning of Qur'an 4:34. A minority considered it 
natural for God to grant husbands the right to beat recalcitrant or diso- 
bedient wives. The pugilistic Ibn Faras found striking an unheeding wife 
far from problematic. He considered it 'recommended,' in fact, because 


it prevented a wife from falling victim to her own irrational impulses 23 
For a strict Baghdad Hanbali like Ibn Jawzi, legal limitations on striking 
a wife came only from the Hadith limiting any non-Hudud punishment 
to a maximum of ten lashes with a whip. He limited this even further 
to between one and three strokes, although he doubted the efficacy of 
whipping overall, since 'if threats of whipping don't work with someone, 
actually whipping them won't stop them either.' Contrary to Ibn Ashur's 
court- centered interpretation, the influential thirteenth-century Qur'an 
commentator Qurtubi, who himself fled the Spanish Reconquista for a 
safe haven in Egypt, insisted that the right to discipline a wife violently 
was granted by God to the husband alone. 24 

Yet this severe strain among the ulama appears not to have had any real 
influence on adjudication. Qurtubi was a luminary of medieval scholar- 
ship, but he was not a judge, having opted for a hermetic life of devout 
erudition in a hamlet in Upper Egypt. Ibn Ashur may have come at the 
tail end of a functioning Shariah judiciary, but he nonetheless worked as a 
judge inside its living system for two decades. He was first appointed as a 
Shariah court judge in 19 1 1 in a judiciary that the French colonial admin- 
istration in Tunisia left relatively free of interference. His explanation of 
Qur'an 4:34 reveals the insight that the system of rights and obligations 
set forth in the Qur'an and Hadiths had to solve real problems. Scripture's 
definitive interpretation often came not in legal textbooks but in the actual 
application of Shariah law. 

Whatever individual scholars like Ibn Faras or Ibn Jawzi might say 
about the benefits of lashing one's wife, available evidence suggests that 
Shariah courts in the pre-modern Muslim world were surprisingly recep- 
tive to women seeking redress or protection from spousal abuse. If it were 
established that violence had been done, the wife could expect judicial 
remedy, and the husband's excuse for why he beat his wife did not matter. 

The perspective of Shariah courts on domestic violence and Qur'an 4:34 
was one of public dispute resolution rather than opining on private conduct. 
From the court's perspective, the Qur'an-mandated process of admonish- 
ing, sleeping separately and finally striking one's wife was moot. If, for 
whatever reason, a wife or husband came before the local Shariah court to 
complain about a spouse's behavior, it was assumed that the process had 
reached the stage of requiring 'an arbiter from his family and an arbiter 
from hers' (4:35) to determine who was harming whom. The role of arbiter 
was played by the court. 25 


Both books of law and their application in Shariah courts assumed 
an intrinsic link in purpose behind the verse commanding beating an)d 
the subsequent command for arbiters to resolve the problem. In the 
broader context of Shariah law, all marital disputes took place against the 
background of the husband's unilateral right to end the marriage without 
any excuse (a type of divorce called Talaq). If a wife was innocent of any 
wrongdoing, the only consequence her husband faced for declaring a 
Talaq was that he forfeited the dower payment he had given her (or, more 
frequently by the 1800s, still owed her in part) and had to pay spousal 
maintenance for a period of time. A wife also had the right to exit the 
marriage through a process known as KhuV, by which she disassociated 
herself from her husband but also forfeited her rights to her dower and 
spousal maintenance. As Maribel Fierro has observed, the approach that 
Shariah courts took to instances of abused wives was designed to protect 
women from a loophole in this system. If a wife's behavior was truly so 
horrid and unacceptable that a husband had reached the point of striking 
her, why had he not already divorced her? He could have done so easily 
and without seeking anyone's permission. That he continued in the mar- 
riage meant either that he still wanted to be married to his wife or that he 
hoped to avoid the financial burden of his unilateral divorce by bullying 
her into seeking a KhuV and leaving at her own expense. 26 

To avoid wives being railroaded into leaving the marriage and sur- 
rendering their rights, as soon as a woman reported abuse Shariah courts 
took up the role of the third party called for by the Qur'an. Instead of 
appointing arbitrators from the couple's families, by the tenth century the 
most widespread tactic used by courts from Iran to Andalusia was housing 
the couple or the wife in the home of a trustworthy neighbor who could 
prevent further problems and report to the court. If the husband was in 
fact abusive, under the Maliki school in North Africa and Andalusia judges 
could terminate the marriage and award the wife compensation. If the wife's 
behavior was unbearable, the husband could receive a divorce by judicial 
decree. 27 Although the Hanafi school did not allow a judge to end the mar- 
riage because of abuse, a famous tenth-century Hanafi jurist in Rayy (now 
absorbed into modern-day Tehran) wrote that it is the judge's responsibility 
to prevent a husband from abusing his wife, both by assigning the wife to 
live in the house of a trustworthy neighbor and by requiring compensation 
from the husband for any injury she suffered. Traveling in the fourteenth 
century through Mardin, near the contemporary Turkey-Syria border, 


Ibn Battuta recounts how the city's chief judge had been approached by 
a woman complaining that her husband had beaten her. The court had 
closed for the day, but the judge accompanied the woman to the couple's 
home and calmly spoke with the mortified husband in the presence of a 
crowd of prying neighbors, instructing him to put his affairs in order and 
give his wife satisfaction. 

Despite the limitations that the empire's official Hanafi school placed 
on judges in such matters, Ottoman court records suggest a similar recep- 
tiveness to wives seeking assistance. The influential sixteenth-century 
chief of the Ottoman religious establishment, Ebusu'ud Efendi, issued a 
fatwa that a judge was permitted to use any means possible to prevent a 
husband from hurting his wife. A leading Shariah consultant {mufti) to 
the courts in seventeenth-century Ottoman Palestine issued a fatwa that 
a husband who had knocked out three of his wife's teeth had to pay the set 
compensation sum of one hundred and fifty gold coins. A series of cases 
from Shariah courts in and around Aleppo in the late 1600s and early 
1700s demonstrated another phenomenon: women who had stipulated 
in their marriage contracts that if their husbands ever struck them they 
would be divorced imme diately, keeping their dower payment and with the 
husband responsible for spousal maintenance. 28 Ottoman Shariah courts 
could end up extending their jurisdiction into the non-Muslim minorities 
in the empire. In 1529, the Ottoman Shariah court in a Greek town heard 
the complaint of a Christian family whose daughter had been beaten to 
death by her husband, ultimately awarding them her wergild amount. 29 

Shariah courts that continued under colonial rule and others that con- 
tinue to function today have taken a similar approach. Women who come 
before the judge with complaints of abuse and evidence to prove it receive 
compensation for their injuries and, should they wish, judicially declared 
divorces and full maintenance rights. If a woman has no witnesses or other 
evidence that abuse has occurred, the judge might still house her with a 
neighbor temporarily. Shariah court records from Zanzibar between 1900 
and 1950 show that judges would refuse to dissolve the marriages of wives 
who claimed their husbands abused them but could provide no witnesses, 
from among the neighbors or family, or other evidence to that effect. If 
there were any witnesses, the judges immediately housed the wife with a 
reliable neighbor, dissolved the marriage and fined the husband. 30 In French 
West Africa in 191 1, courts in Kita and Jenne (both in present-day Mali) 
granted divorces to numerous women who claimed their husbands had 


beaten them and either brought witnesses to corroborate this or when the 
husband admitted it. The courts usually awarded the wife compensation 
from the husband, dissolved the marriage and allowed the wife to keep 
her dower gift. One case records the husband explaining to the judge 
why his wife deserved a beating. The court ignored him since, by dint of 
requiring legal remedy his actions had exceeded his rights to discipline 
her. 31 A case from Casablanca in 1917 shows how the classical principles 
of Shariah procedure were still active. If neighbors claimed they heard a 
wife screaming but saw nothing (i.e., they could provide no evidence of 
abuse), the judge would still punish the husband. In the Maliki school it 
was reasoned that, if the husband had not sought help from anyone when 
his wife was screaming, it could be assumed that he had been responsible 
for her distress. 32 

Saudi Arabia presents a fascinating case of a legal system that still 
relies primarily on Shariah courts. In fact, Saudi Arabia struggles with 
a judiciary that continues to resist the type of efforts to centralize and 
routinize the law that were completed in countries like Egypt in the early 
twentieth century. The founder of the modern Saudi state, Abd al-Aziz 
Ibn Saud, tried to build on the modernized Ottoman court system that he 
inherited when his forces won control of the former Ottoman province of 
the Hejaz in 1926. The ulama serving as Shariah judges in the Saudi state's 
Najd heartland, however, retained their Salafi aversion to institutional 
authority. They not only rejected Ibn Saud's efforts to centralize the judi- 
cial system, they even refused calls to codify the Hanbali school of law by 
selecting as definitive one of the school's multiple rulings on every point 
of law. The Saudi Ministry of Justice has still not succeeded in compelling 
Shariah judges in the country to abide by precedential rulings or even to 
limit their choices to the Hanbali school. 

In an effort to create a format for regularizing judicial rulings, the 
Saudi Ministry of Justice has begun publishing yearly compilations of 
case records that offer examples for how to rule on types of cases. The 
model for domestic abuse is a 2002 case handled in the Riyadh lower 
claims court, which heard the case of a woman who accused her husband 
of beating her and abusing her verbally. Hospital reports confirmed that 
she had suffered bruises on her back, arms and thighs as well as a black 
eye. The husband admitted insulting her and that he had hit her 'to disci- 
pline her' because she had insulted him foully. The judge deemed that the 
husband had violated the Qur'anic principle requiring husbands to 'Live 


with them [wives] according to what is right' (4:19) and, based on the 
medical reports, ruled that the husband should pay his wife 9,000 riyals 
(around $2,400) compensation for her injuries and receive thirty lashes 
for his insulting language. The excuse that the husband gave, that his wife 
had insulted him, held no weight before the court. Unlike the husband, she 
had not admitted using abusive language, nor had the husband provided 
any evidence for his claim. 33 

Available data thus strongly suggest that Shariah courts generally went 
further than the already very restrictive, mainstream position taken by the 
Sunni schools of law in their cautious reading of Qur'an 4:34. 1 have not 
come across any evidence that the more permissive stances of ulama like 
Ibn Faras and Ibn Jawzi manifested themselves in court rulings. That the 
substantive law (fiqh) explicated in books could differ from the conduct of 
the courts that supposedly applied it does not betray some cognitive dis- 
sonance between the law as theory and the law as practice. Incongruence 
often came about because the madhhabs were not monolithic and rarely 
had only one position on an issue. The 'official' position of the madhhab, 
usually the one used in court rulings, often depended on which books of 
law were in favor during one era or in a particular region. The Hanbali law 
of Ibn Jawzi in thirteenth- century Baghdad differs greatly from Hanbali 
law as applied in modern Saudi Arabia, a distinction that appears both in 
books of law and in court rulings. 

This is not to suggest that Shariah courts have offered perfect justice for 
abused wives. Social prejudice, class and ingrained misogyny exert alarming 
influence. In cases brought before Egypt's Shariah courts between 1900 
and 1955, women suing for divorce based on claims that their husbands 
had been inflicting harm on them won more than half of the time. But 
the bar for what constituted a harmful beating was higher for lower-class 
women than for the elite. 54 Between 1983 and 1995, almost a quarter of the 
women who came to a court in Yemen's capital seeking a judicial divorce 
cited domestic violence as the cause. Overall, women tended to be suc- 
cessful litigants before the court. They won the vast majority of their cases. 
With complaints of domestic abuse, though, only 20 percent of the women 
received the divorce they sought. This was mostly due to the evidentiary 
standards held up for poor women - the majority of the litigants - whom 
the court would only grant divorces if the physical abuse they were suf- 
fering qualified as a criminal offense. Upper-class Yemeni women found 
it much easier to convince a judge with lesser claims. 35 



Amina Wadud states that, when the Qur'an says something 'unmeaningful' 
or 'unacceptable/ we have two choices. Either we say 'no' to the revealed 
text, which means either denying its validity or authority, or we find an 
alternative interpretation. 36 Qur'an 4:34 epitomizes the crises of scripture 
in the modern world because many feel that the notion of God saying 
anything like 'strike your wives' is indefensible, and alternative interpreta- 
tions are either too far-fetched or too costly to the structural integrity of 
the Islamic tradition. The verse seems tantamount to a modern moment of 
God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son, posing a decisive challenge. 
Either we testify that God's will supersedes all reason and intuitive sense 
of justice, or we refuse to obey Him. Unlike Abraham, however, we are 
not ancient Semites hearing the voice of God directly. We are eons away, 
being presented with a text and told that it contains God's words for us to 
follow. Reason and justice seem a steep price to pay. 

Yet no matter how immediate God's command or how obvious any act 
of speech might seem, we cannot process their meanings without engaging 
in the act of interpretation. Abraham did what he understood God to have 
asked. A prophet is in the rare place of receiving corrective instructions from 
God. Scriptural communities, by contrast, have only the texts left behind 
by prophets to mine for clarity and the tradition handed down to aid in 
interpretation. In articulating their understanding of what God meant in 
Qur'an 4 : 34, no Muslim s cholar has understood the verse as granting a hus- 
band unrestricted license to strike his wife. On the contrary, beginning with 
Muhammad (or what Muslims imagined to be Muhammad), the majority 
of the ulama strongly discouraged any act of violence against wives. And all 
schools of law offered the wife protection and required the husband to pay 
her compensation for injuries. Most allowed a judge to dissolve the mar- 
riage without the wife losing any financial rights. If one takes Shariah courts 
as the primary interpreters of God's law, then they repeatedly said 'no' to 
the evident meaning of the Quranic verse. As defendants before a Shariah 
court, husbands effectively had no legitimate right to strike their wives. 

Qur'an 4:34 epitomizes the crisis of scripture in the modern world 
because the interpretations and explanations advanced by ulama for the 
verse seem to many like clumsy and futile apologetics. The fact that Muslim 
unease with the evident meaning of the verse long predates modern 


sensibilities, extending to the very origins of the Islamic scholarly tra- 
dition, raises the possibility that for over a millennium the ulama have 
been affecting a cover-up for a clear flaw in the holy book. But these are 
only our perceptions of clumsiness, apologetics and affectedness. They 
are based on our notion that explanations are far-fetched if they are too 
far removed from the 'literal' meaning of a text. For the Muslim scholars 
actually interpreting the verse, however, being far-fetched was not a func- 
tion of distance between the apparent and intended meaning. Rather, all 
that mattered was that the interpretive distance was justified by sufficient 
evidence. The ulama's Rule of Interpretation allowed departing from the 
evident meaning of a text for some other interpretation provided a solid 
piece of evidence from the Qur'an, Sunna or reason demanded it. In the 
case of Qur'an 4:34, the ulama restricted significantly the verse's evident 
meaning in response to the strongest extrinsic evidence in their intellectual 
world, namely the well-established precedent of the Prophet's treatment 
of wives and his strong criticism of striking women. 

Qur'an 4:34 epitomizes the crisis of scripture in the modern world 
because it posits a God or a religion would even leave the door open to 
such an obvious and harmful misunderstanding. Yet no text is immune to 
misunderstanding, whether ancient or mo dern, bellicose or pacifist. Jesus' 
praise for those 'who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of 
heaven's sake' (Matthew 19:12) led Origen to castrate himself - literally - 
even though the Church Father was synonymous with a figurative reading 
of the Bible. 37 Since any set of commands allows for misunderstanding, the 
written word must be constrained and explained by living tradition. As 
Ali Gomaa and centuries of ulama before him have reiterated, the Muslim 
laity shouldnotbe deriving conclusions about their rights and obligations 
from the Qur'an and Hadiths to begin with. This was the job of the ulama. 
The very elliptical style of the Qur'an and the Hadiths, with their constant 
interaction with the shifting contexts of the Prophet's surroundings, makes 
them incomprehensible at times without context. This also leaves them 
dangerously vulnerable to misreading. Hence the admittedly provoca- 
tive warning issued by a leading Al-Azhar scholar of the early nineteenth 
century that acting on the evident meanings of the Qur'an and Hadiths 
alone is 'one of the sources of unbelief.' 38 

Wadud makes an important point in explaining her comments on 
Qur'an 4:34. In a practical sense, saying 'no' to the Qur'an was not con- 
troversial at all. Muslims had, in effect, said 'no' to the Qur'an and Hadiths 


innumerable times over the centuries. They had said 'no' to the evident 
meaning of the Qur'an when it said 'polytheists are naught but filthy,*| 
favoring a figurative interpretation in light of Islam's overall teachings that 
humans are pure. They had said 'no' to the evident meaning of the Hadith 
of the Sun Prostrating on the basis of empirical observation, understand- 
ing it instead as a personification of the sun's submission to God's will. In 
effect, the overarching teachings of Islam and empirical realities were more 
powerful than the specific words of God or the Prophet as contained in a 
Quranic passage or Hadith. But this was phrased as an act of clarification, 
not overruling, of asking 'how' rather than saying 'no.' The distinction 
in tone made all the difference, as it reflected a willingness to submit to 
revelation. It was seeking understanding from a just and living Lord, not 
refusing to obey a suspect patriarch and ossified relic of the old world. 

That what appears to be a straightforward command by God could be 
rendered by the ulama as 'strongly discouraged' in almost all circumstances 
might be seen as far-fetched interpretation. But it was an ordinary prod- 
uct of the deterrence-based logic of Islam's scriptures. The Qur'an clearly 
instructs Muslims to cut off the hand of thieves, but Hadiths and the con- 
sensus of jurists made this punishment almost impossible to enforce. The 
Prophet ordered adulterers to be stoned, but the evidentiary standards for 
the punishment were so high that records show that in Ottoman Istanbul 
only one instance of stoning ever took place. 39 These terrible punishments 
were meant to convey the gravity of sin against God, and so strong was the 
sense of duty to avoid carrying them out that Cairo's senior judge chose 
exile over agreeing to execute two adulterers. 

However, unless one accepts the argument that the basic meaning of 
daraba in Qur'an 4:34 was misunderstood, one must accept that a hus- 
band using violence to discipline his wife is not inherently, absolutely 
and categorically wrong. There must be some time, place or situation 
when it is allowed, or God would not have permitted it. Many today are 
unwilling to accept this. It is in this sense that saying 'no' to scripture is 
fatal to its authority and signifies a turnover in epistemological eras. The 
move from assuming that scripture contains the truth but need only be 
understood properly to saying 'no' to scripture because it says something 
unacceptable or impossible is a blow that shatters the vessel of scriptural 
reverence. It means that some extra-scriptural source of truth has been 
openly acknowledged as more powerful and compelling than the words 
of God in scripture. If scripture is read with a hermeneutics of suspicion 


(borrowing from Paul Ricoeur), then dire problems can appear on every 
page. If, on the other hand, one believes that a scripture contains true and 
infallible guidance from the divine, then one will read it with the assump- 
tion that it must be consistent internally and with external realities. Sense 
will be made in light of present challenges as it was made in the past. 

Certainly, a scriptural tradition still has its uses even for those who 
have moved on to believe that truth comes from secular sources. It can be 
drawn on and quoted to move an audience or bolster ideas rooted else- 
where. But sooner or later, it will clash with secular truths and become 
a burden. In such cases the scriptural tradition can be reread and picked 
from selectively to reconcile it with the recognized sources of truth. But it 
must be substantially reconfigured, as the Qur'an Only movement has done 
with Islam's scriptures, or else at some point one must say 'no' to the text. 

Our world has been for some time one in which secular, extra-scriptural 
truths reign. It is so hard to avoid the hegemony of 'science,' 'universal 
values' and 'common sense.' Yet they are not omnipotent. From America 
to South Africa, hundreds ofmillions ofChristians believe the Bible is the 
literal word of God and consider belief in scientific 'facts' like evolution 
to be heresy. But they do protest too much. Affected resistance to extra- 
scriptural truth only confesses to its power. Galileo was echoing Augustine 
and Catholic orthodoxy when he asserted that undeniable, empirical 
observation could not disprove the Bible, it only meant that Christians 
had been misinterpreting some of its details. 40 Had he not been so prickly 
at a time of such sectarian tension, his advocacy of the scientific method 
would have raised no furor. But, as it is, we look back at Galileo as the 
symbolic proof that one must choose between religion and science. This 
dilemma has been set up by a civilization that, since the late nineteenth 
century, has reified these two concepts and for the most part placed them 
at loggerheads. Now those who would defend a scriptural tradition must 
defend it, right or wrong, in a zero-sum contest. Woman-led prayer must 
be rejected regardless of evidence. To be free of the tyranny of the extra- 
scriptural you have to mistrust and perhaps even hate its sources with a 
vehemence that blinds you to the necessary, natural process of reconcil- 
ing truth in scripture with truth outside it. Yet in the modern world there 
does not seem to be any other mode of resistance, since the relationship 
between scriptural and extra-scriptural truths has been recast permanently 
as one of mutually exclusive enmity. 

If it is possible in this day and age to abide tranquilly in the truth of 


scripture, I do not know if it can be done via reasoned demonstration. 
Like the young Syrian shaykh, telegenic ulama and Muslim preachers pop} 
on and drop off satellite channels and conference circuits based on their 
ability to inspire listeners and convince them, if only for an evening, that 
they are hearing the true Islam, authentic, unforced, unaffected and also 
totally suitable for our world. It may be that one such scholar or preacher 
really does bear that treasure. But how can we tell? If a scholar says women 
can lead mixed prayers, is he (or she) selling out to Western sensibilities or 
presenting a sincere opinion about the correct Shariah stance? If the scholar 
says there are certain circumstances when a husband can strike his wife, 
is he or she standing firmly by the true teachings of God and the Prophet 
against the tsunami of globalization or merely being a patriarchal reaction- 
ary? For many Muslims today, a strong commitment to gender equality and 
a revulsion at domestic violence would determine the answer to these two 
questions, and any 'Islamic' argument to the contrary would wither on the 
vine. For Muslim students attending an Eid Dinner, then, is what makes a 
good speaker and a great Muslim scholar a consistent and honest approach 
to deriving Islam's teachings from scriptural sources? Or is it the ability to 
make the audience feel that they can be Muslim and modern at the same 
time, even if that feeling is only temporary? How can Muslims distinguish 
between the hegemonic values of globalized modernity and 'the true teach- 
ings of Islam' when the markers once used to define Islam's boundaries, 
such as a charitable approach to scripture, the Rule of Interpretation and 
Consensus, have been laid low by modern disenchantment? 

Visiting the famous Dar al-Ulum Deoband madrasa not far from the 
North Indian town where Shah Wali Allah was born, I heard of a profound 
experience that one student who had studied there in the early 1900s had 
recorded in his memoirs. 41 The student had strayed from the madrasa cur- 
riculum and submerged himself in books of philosophy and the modernist 
arguments of Hadith skeptics. Sitting in class at Deoband, the student's 
mind was flooded with the most profound doubts about the reliability of 
Hadiths. He even questioned Muhammad's prophethood. Instead of being 
open to possible explanations for reports like the Hadith of the Fly or the 
Devil Farting, the student felt he was falling into an abyss of irreverent 
suspicion. Finally, he went to his teacher, one of India's most saintly and 
revered ulama. The elderly scholar comforted the student and told him 
not to worry, that his faith was strong. 'Go now, and never again will you 
experience doubts of any kind,' he told him. The student never did. 

Appendix I 

Marracci and Ockley on Aisha's 
Marriage to the Prophet 

Simon Ockley (d. 1720) was a Cambridge scholar who wrote the monumen- 
tal and influential History of the Saracens. His discussion of Muhammad's 
marriage to Aisha is unusual for its time. It is also misleading, both in the 
way it portrays Aisha's father, Abu Bakr, replying to the Prophet's offer of 
marriage and in the subsequent encounter between the future husband 
and wife. It is based on an inaccurate translation and requires clarification. 
Ockley writes: 

Ayesha was then but seven years old, and therefore this marriage 
was not consummated till two years after, when she was nine years 
old, at which age, we are told, women in that country are ripe for 
marriage. An Arabian author cited by Maracci, says that Abubeker 
was very averse to the [sic] giving him his daughter so young, but 
that Mohammed pretended a divine command for it; whereupon he 
sent her to him with a basket of dates, and when the girl was alone 
with him, he stretched out his blessed hand (these are the author's 
words) [sic], and rudely took hold of her clothes, upon which she 
looked fiercely at him, and said, 'People call you the faithful man, 
but your behaviour to me shows you are a perfidious one.' (Ockley, 
History of the Saracens, 19) 

Ockley's source, however, had not rendered the original material accu- 
rately. Lodovico Marracci was an Italian priest and anti-Islam polemicist 
who had published a translation of the Qur'an, along with introductory 


material about the Prophet and a refutation of Islam, in Padua in 1698 
(Lewis, Islam and the West, pp. 86-88). He quotes as his source on Aisha's \ 
marriage the Sab'iyyat fi mawa'iz al-barriyyat, written in 1588 by the 
Muslim author Abu Nasr Muhammad bin Abd al-Rahman al-Hamadhani 
(Kashf al-zunun, Beirut, 2:272; Zirikli, A'lam, 6:195). Marracci (inaccu- 
rately) paraphrases his source: Abu Bakr had resisted for a time, that [his] 
daughter would not marry Muhammad at such a young age (AbubaKrum 
diu restitisse, ne filia in tamparva cetate nuberet Mahumeto)' (Marracci, 
'Prodromus,' 23). 

The original Arabic source is very different. It includes an unusual 
report, which I have not been able to locate in any other source, which 
is clearly meant more as entertainment than as religious instruction. In a 
section describing the Prophet's marriages, al-Hamadhani cites a report 
(with no source or Isnad) of the Prophet having a dream about God send- 
ing Gabriel to show him an image of a girl who would be his bride, namely 
Aisha, and giving her to Muhammad as a wife in Heaven. The Prophet tells 
his friend Abu Bakr about the vision, asking him to marry his daughter 
Aisha to him on earth as well. Abu Bakr responds, 'O Messenger of God, 
she is young, and I do not know if she is suitable (tasluhu) for you.' The 
Prophet asks rhetorically how it could be that Aisha might not be suit- 
able for him when God considered her so. Abu Bakr immediately agrees 
and tells the Prophet he is marrying his daughter to him. Aisha is sent by 
her father to visit the Prophet, not knowing yet that she has been wed to 
him, and is shocked when he takes hold of her robe and pulls her toward 
himself. She upbraids him and leaves to tell her father. Abu Bakr responds 
by telling her not to think badly of anyone since he had already married 
her to the Prophet. 

In the Arabic original, Abu Bakr's concerns over Aisha's age are not 
profound or moral. It was not uncommon to reject a suitor due to age issues. 
A report in the Sunan al-Nasai tells of the Prophet rejecting Abu Bakr's 
proposal to the Prophet's daughter Fatima because she was too young for 
him (kitab al-nikdh, bdb tazawwuj al-mar'a mithlaha fi al-sinn) . The word 
Abu Bakr uses for 'suitable' or 'fitting', s-l-h, is often used in the context of 
marriage to mean 'fit for sexual intercourse.' Aisha was, in fact, not fit for it 
at the time. Hence, once they agreed on the marriage, all parties involved 
also agreed to delay the consummation of the marriage for several years. 
The reader's pleasure of revelation in the vignette comes from the relief 
from the tension created by Aisha upbraiding the Messenger of God ( !), 


i.e., when she finds that he had been within his rights to touch her because 
he was already her husband. 

Interestingly, there seem to be significant differences between 
manuscripts of the Sab'iyyat, with at least three disparities in this story 
alone. When Abu Bakr replies to the Prophet's request, the unnamed 
manuscript(s) used by Sayyid Siddiq Abd al-Fattah in his 2009 Cairo 
edition (Maktabat al-MadbuII, p. 195) reads: T do not know if she is suit- 
able for your service {tasluhu li-khidmatika),' while the Ms. of King Saud 
University in Riyadh (Ms. 1378 of Jami'at al-Malik Su'ud, 92b), which was 
copied in 1845, reads 'suitable for you (tasluhu laka)'. 

Marracci is chiefly interested in depicting Muhammad as a lecher 
(scortum) and a hypocrite, who gropes women who are not his wives and 
uses his claims of prophecy for carnal ends. His exaggeration of Abu Bakr's 
hesitance merely provides dramatic effect, suggesting that he also wanted 
to keep his daughter out of lecherous hands. Ockley adopts this and adds 
his own layer of interpretation. Perhaps because he is skeptical about the 
claims that women mature so early in warmer climes, Abu Bakr's original 
response turns into him being 'very averse' to marrying his daughter off 
at such a young age. 


Appendix II 

Hadiths on a Parent Killing His Child 


Al-Suyuti rates it as sahih, and al-Albani affirms it as hasan {Sahih al-Jami' 
al-saghir, 2:1231). Al-Dhahabi considers it possible that it is hasan 
{Mukhtasar Sunan al-Bayhaqi, 6:3125). Ibn 'Abd al-Barr remarks that 
the Hadith undergirding the ruling on this issue 'is well known (mashhiir) 
among the jurists of Iraq and the Hejaz, so widespread and acted on (al- 
'amal bihi) that an Isnad is unnecessary. In fact, providing an isnad for it 
might be excessive' (Ibn Abd al-Barr, al-Tamhid, 23:437). Abd al-Haqq 
al-Ishblli, however, observes that 'all its narrations are flawed (ma'lula) 
and none are sound' (Ibn Hajar, Talkhis, 4:1314-15). 


One narration of this tradition comes from the Companions Suraqa bin 
Malik, who recalls the Prophet saying that a parent cannot be put to 
death for killing his or her child. The majority of the narrations of this 
tradition, though, consist of the caliph 'Umar recalling the Prophet's 
ruling on this issue. Both Suraqa's and 'Umar's narrations come via Amr 
bin Shu'ayb. Al-TirmidhI says that these narrations are unresolvably 
problematic (mudtarib) but that the Hadith is acted on by jurists. 'Amr 


bin Shu'ayb (d. 736) was relied upon extensively as a transmitter in the 
Four Sunan but not in the Sahihayn of al-Bukharl and Muslim. Early 
Hadith critics agree that, if a Hadith was narrated from him by a trust- 
worthy transmitter (thiqa), Amr could be used as part of the proof, 
but not otherwise. Critics like Ibn Ma'In and Abu Zur'a al-Razi note he 
made many mistakes due to his relying on a written book of Hadiths he 
received from his father without proper audition (samd") (al-Dhahabi, 
Mughni, 2:146), and this book seems to be his source for the Hadith in 
question here. Al-Razi adds that many unacceptable (munkar) Hadiths 
are narrated from Amr by Ibn Lahi'a and al-Muthanna bin al-Sabbah, 
both highly problematic transmitters in their own right. Ibn Hanbal is 
of the opinion that Amr's Hadiths should only be written for considera- 
tion in evaluating other Hadiths, not for use as proofs in law (Ibn Hajar, 
Tahdhib, 8:42-43). None of the transmissions of the Hadith in question 
from him are via trustworthy transmitters (they include al-Hajjaj bin 
Arta, Ibn Lahi'a, Ya'qub bin Ata' and others) except one found in the 
Sunan of al-Daxaqutni (3:140). This Isnad presents no problems until it 
arrives at the segment with Amr bin Abi Qays «- Mansur bin Mu'tamir 
<r Muhammad bin Ajlan 'Amr bin Shu'ayb. 'Amr bin Abi Qays, though 
not considered very weak, was known to err in Hadiths. The fact that 
the only chain of transmission leading back to a reliable transmitter from 
'Amr bin Shu'ayb comes to us through a later transmitter who was known 
to err, and the fact that Amr bin Shu'ayb received this Hadith only in 
written form without proper audition suggests that all the narrations of 
the Hadith through 'Amr are weak. 

We should note here that Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda argued that 
the narrations of 'Amr bin Shu'ayb from his father should be considered 
uniformly reliable. His argument centers on the fact that 'Amr's Hadiths 
were often acted on by jurists, however, and it is precisely this reliance on 
tradition to authenticate Hadiths that is at issue here (see Abu Ghudda's 
appendices to his edition of Qafw al-atharfisafw 'ulum al-athar [Beirut; 
Dar al-Basha'ir al-Islamiyya, 1988], 210-19). 

The transmission of the Hadith of the Parent Killing His Child from 
'Umar that does not pass through Amr (found in Ibn Hanbal's Musnad) 
includes the problematic linkbetween al-Hakam bin 'Utayba Mujahid bin 
Jabr. Al-Hakam was a known mudullis, with Shu'ba bin al-Hajjaj warning 
that anything he received from Mujahid without explicit audition (sama 1 ) 
was passed in the form of a book (Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib, 2:390). Since this 


Hadith comes via the phrase 'from {'an),' which does not denote audition, 
this narration is unreliable. \ 

The transmissions of the Hadith from Ibn 'Abbas all pass via Ismail 
bin Muslim al-Makki, who is uniformly panned as a narrator. Al-Bayhaqi 
and al-Daraqutnl have a version that bypasses Isma'II bin Muslim by going 
direcdy to the respected scholar 'Amr bin Dinar (al-Bayhaqi, Sunan, 8:70), 
but this version passes through Hasan bin 'All bin Shablb al-Ma'mari of 
Baghdad, who was respected and well known but who made errors like 
mixing up reports from the Prophet (raf) and versions from Companions 
and other later folk (waqf). Al-DhahabI correctly observes that this is 
not a minor flaw at all, since it regularly excludes a transmitter from the 
category of being reliable (al-Dhahabl, Siyar, 13:513). This narration of 
the Hadith is thus unreliable. 

Al-Hakim offers a bizarre version via the Meccan scholar Ibn Jurayj that 
is totally baseless in part due to the presence in the Isnad of 'Umar bin 'Isa, 
who is either a forger or unknown. Al-Dhahabl dismissed this version, and 
even Ibn Hajar, who usually tries to defend al-Hakim from al-Dhahabi's 
criticism, accepts this critique (Ibn Hajar, Lisdn al-mizan, 4:320-22; 
al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, 4:369). Al-Hakim and al-Tabaranl include another 
insignificant narration via the unknown transmitter 'Ubayd bin Sharik. 


Taken together and based on Isnad evidence alone, one might conclude 
that the two main clumps of narrations of the Hadith from 'Umar buttress 
one another and raise the Hadith to a hasan rating. Though this is generally 
reliable enough to justify a legal ruling, the extent to which the Hadith's 
contents clash with the explicit principles of the protection of innocent 
life and personal responsibility before the law suggest that this Hadith 
evidence is not reliable enough. 


Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal: 1: 16, 22, 49; Jdmi' al-Tirmidhi: kitab al-diydt, 
bab rajul yaqtulu ibnahu yuqddu minhu am la; Sunan Ibn Majah: kitab 


al-diydt, bab la yuqtalu al-wdlid bi-waladihi; al-Tabaranl, al-Mu'jam 
al-kablr, 11:5; al-Hakim al-Naysaburl, al-Mustadrak, 4:369; al-Bayhaqi, 
al-Sunan al-kubrd, 8:69-70; Abu Nu'aym al-Isbahani, Hilyat al-awliyd', 
4:18; Ibn Abd al-Barr, al-Tamhtd, 23:440-42; Ibn al-Mulaqqin, al-Badr 
al-munir, 8:372-79; Ibn Hajar, Talkhls al-habir, 4:33-34. 


Appendix III 

The Hadith of Riba and Incest 


This Hadith presents an excellent case study of how Hadiths of admonition 
and encouragement were treated. Its narrations are all flawed in serious 
ways. Despite this, prominent Hadith scholars from al-Hakim al-Naysaburi 
to al-Suyuti and al-Albani have all considered it sound (sahih) (al-Suyuti, 
al-La'alial-masnu'a, 2: 129; al-Albani, Silsilatal-ahadiih al-sahiha, 4:488 ff., 
no. 1871). 

Various narrations of the Hadith were criticized or declared forgeries 
by early critics. The Hadith as a whole, inclusive of all its narrations, was 
considered an outright forgery by many scholars as well, including Ibn 
al-Jawzi, Ibn Arraq and Muhammad Tahir al-Fatanl. In his abridgement 
of Ibn al-Jawzi's Kitab al-Mawduat, al-Dhahabi affirms the author's con- 
clusion that the Hadith is forged (overruling his own youthful affirmation 
of its reliability in his comments on al-mkim's Mustadrak). Al-Sakhawl 
provides the most comprehensive analysis of this Hadith in his Fatawa, 
and he seconds Ibn al-Jawzf s conclusion that all the versions comparing 
Riba to incest are unreliable. 

For these varied criticisms, see: Abu Ja'far al-'Uqayli, Kitab al-duafa 
al-kabir, ed. Abd al-Mu'ti Amin Qal'aji, 4 vols (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al- 
Tlmiyya, 1984), 2:257-58; Ibn AbiHatim al-Razi, 'Ual al-hadtth, ed. Sa'd 
'Abdallah al-Humayyid and Khalid Abd al-Rahman al-Juraysi (Riyadh: 
Matabi' al-Juraysi, 2006), 3:614 (no. 1132); Ibn al-Jawzi, Kitab al-Mawduat, 
2:245; 'Ali bin Muhammad Ibn Arraq, Tanzih al-sharia al-marfu'a 'an 

appendix in j 299 

al-akhbar al-shani'a al-mawdu'a,2vols (Cairo: Maktabatal-Qahira, [1964]), 
2: 194; Muhammad Tahir al-Fatani, Tadhkiratal-mawdu'at (Beirut: Amin 
Damaj, [I960]), 139; al-Dhahabi, Tartib ahMawdu'at, ed. Kamal BasyunI 
Zaghlul (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-Tlmiyya, 1994), 196-97; Shams al-Din 
al-Sakhawi, al-Fatawd al-hadithiyya, ed. Ali Rida Abdallah (Beirut: Dar 
al-Ma'mun li'l-Turath, n.d.), 155-59. 


Early transmission of this Hadith was concentrated in Basra, and it appears 
in several manifestations, some mentioning that there are .seventy types 
of Riba, some seventy-one, -two or -three, originating supposedly from 
the Companions Abu Hurayra, Ibn Mas'ud, Bara' bin Azib, Wahb bin 
al-Aswab and Ibn Abbas. The main versions are as follows (brackets [ ] 
indicate sections of the text missing from some narrations): 

• Abu Hurayra <■ Prophet: Riba is seventy types of sin, the least 
severe is like a man having sex with his mother [And to practice 
Riba is to impinge on the honor of a Muslim]. 

• Abu Hurayra <- Prophet: Riba is of seventy types, the least of 
which is like someone having sex with his mother. 

. Ibn Mas'ud <- Prophet: Riba is of seventy- [three] types, [the least 
severe is like a man having sex with his mother. And to practice 
Riba impinges on the honor of a Muslim man]. 

. Bara' bin 'Azib ± Prophet: Riba is of seventy-two types, the 
lowest of them like a man coming to his mother for sex. And, 
for a man, practicing Riba is taking liberties with the honor of 
his fellow Muslim. 

The two versions of Wahb and Ibn Abbas are too weak to merit serious 
discussion. Ibn Hajar notes that the narration from Wahb suffers from 
several weaknesses in the Isnad, including the addition of two weak 
transmitters according to some versions, and the ninth-century master 
Hadith critic Abu Zur'a al-Razi dismisses the narration from Ibn Abbas 
as 'munkar (unacceptable). 

The main transmission of this Hadith comes from the Companions 
Abu Hurayra and Bara' bin 'Azib via the bottleneck of the Basran scholar 


'Ikrima bin 'Ammar from his Basran teacher Yahya bin Abi Kathir. Anything 
passing via this link in the Isndd is unreliable because a number of leading} 
early Hadith experts, from Ibn Hanbal, Abu Hatim al-RazI and 'All bin 
al-Madinl to Yahya al-Qattan and al-Bukhari all felt that 'Ikrima's mate- 
rial from Yahya was riddled with mistakes. In part this was because he 
had relied on a written book with no oral explanation. There is no other 
source for this Hadith from Yahya bin Abi Kathir to corroborate 'Ikrima's 
narration. Unfortunately, al-Albanl glosses over this serious flaw when 
authenticating this narration of the Hadith. 

Narrations from Abu Hurayra that do not pass via this 'Ikrima <- Yahya 
link, like the one found in Ibn Majah's Sunan, rely either on the unreli- 
able Abu Ma'shar al-Sindi or on the uniformly avoided {tarakuhu, says 
al-Dhahabi) Abdallah bin Sa'id al-Maqburi, as in the case of the narrations 
found in the books of Ibn Abi al-Dunya. 

The narration from the Companion Ibn Mas'ud in the Mustadrak of 
al-Hakim relies on Zayd bin al-Hawari al- 'Ammi, an error-prone and very 
problematic transmitter from Basra about whom Ibn Adi says, 'the mass 
ofwhat he narrates is weak.' The narration through Bara' has a total break 
in the Isndd between him and Ishaq bin Abdallah, and a later transmitter 
in the chain, 'Umar bin Rashid, is widely considered 'weak' (Ibn Hajar, 
Tahdhlb, 3:355; 7:227). 

From the perspective of Sunni Hadith criticism, the number and variety 
of Hadiths conveying the message that Riba is a serious sin comparable 
to fornication leave little doubt that this idea has a strong basis in the 
Prophet's teachings. That said, there is no reliable evidence for the Hadith 
that specifically equates the least serious form of Riba with fornication 
with one's mother. The fact that this statement was also attributed to 
Companions like 'Abdallah bin Salam suggests that it might originally 
have been a saying in the early Muslim community. The problematic 
transmitters above may have confused Abu Hurayra's saying this with a 
prophetic Hadith. 


Sunan Ibn Mdj ah: kitdb al-tijdrdt, bdb al-taghlizfi al-ribd; al-Hakim, al- 
Mustadrak, 2:37; Abu Bakr al-Bazzar, Musnad al-Bazzdr, 5:318; al-Tabarani, 
Mu'jam al-kabir, 9:321; idem, Mujam al-awsat, ed. Tariq Awad Allah and 


Abd al-Muhsin al-Husaynl, 10 vols (Cairo: Dar al-Haramayn, 1995), 7:158; 
Ibn Abi al-Dunya, Kitdb al-Samt, 173; idem, Kitdb al-Ghiba, 34; al-Bayhaqi, 
Shu 'ab al-imdn, ed. Muhammad Sa'id Basyum Zaghlul, 7 vols (Beirut: Dar 
al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 1990), 4:394; Abu Bakr Ibn Abi Shayba, al-Musannaf, 
ed. KamalYusufal-Hut, 7vols (Riyadh: Maktabat al-Rushd, [1989]), 4:448; 
Abd al-Razzaq al-San'am, al-Musannaf, ed. Habib al-Rahman al-A'zami, 
2nd edn, 11 vols (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, [1983]), 8:314. 

Appendix IV 

The Hadith of the Seventy-Two Virgins 

This Hadith has the Prophet promising that, 

The martyr receives six features with God: he is immediately for- 
given, he sees his seat in Paradise, he is protected from the torment 
of the grave and the greatest terror of the Resurrection, he is given 
the crown of honor, whose ruby is greater than the world and all in 
it; he is given seventy-two heavenly beauties (hur al-'in) as wives 
and allowed to intercede on behalf of seventy of his relatives. 

This Hadith appears in the Sunans of al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah as well as 
the MusnadoiVon Hanbal and the Musannafoi his teacher 'Abd al-Razzaq 
al-San'ani. These sources generally record this Hadith through a number 
o[Isnads converging on the Syrian Ismail bin Ayyash and continuing to 
his teacher, the widely respected scholar Bahir bin Sa'd, then to Khalid 
bin Ma'dan, then continuing to the Prophet via a number of varied chains. 
Ismail, however, was well known as a problematic transmitter who, 
though he was honest, frequently erred in transmitting Hadiths. He often 
confused Isndds or turned Companion opinions into prophetic Hadiths 
and vice versa. This is certainly the case for the Hadith of the Seventy-Two 
Virgins. Isma'il is recorded as transmitting it via five contrasting paths: 

1 . Bahir «- Khalid <- Miqdam bin al-Ma'dikarab <r Prophet 

2. Bahir <- Khalid <r Kathir bin Murra «- 'Ubada bin Samit* <- Prophet 

* The narration from 'Ubada was probably a confusion with 'Ubada's separate 
narration of a different version of this Hadith, one that lacked specification of seventy- 
two heavenly beauties and intercession for seventy relatives; see al-Bazzar, Musnad 
al-Bazzdr, 7:143. 


3. Bahir <=- Khalid Kathir bin Murra «- Nu'aym bin Hammar (sic) 
«- Prophet 

4. Bahir <- Khalid <- Kathir bin Murra «- 'Uqba bin 'Amir (not a 
prophetic Hadith) 

5. Said bin Yusuf <- Yahya bin Abi Kathir <h Abu Sallam <r Abu 
Mu'aniq al-Ash'ari <- Abu Malik <- Prophet. 

Amid this confusion of Ismail's varied narrations of the Hadith, there 
is only one source that confirms that his teacher Bahir transmitted the 
Hadith at all, namely the Hims Hadith scholar Baqiyya bin Walid, who 
was generally favored as a source over Isma'il by leading critics such as 
Abu Hatim al-Razi. 

Baqiyya, though, was just as problematic as Isma'il, meriting unusu- 
ally lengthy entries in leading Hadith critical dictionaries like the Mizan 
al-i tidal and the Tahdhib al-Tahdhib. Although he was praised as upstand- 
ing and reliable (thiqa) by some leading Hadith critics of the ninth century, 
he was more often and more extensively criticized. He was lambasted in par- 
ticular for narrating unselectively from many transmitters and, much more 
seriously, dropping the names of his immediate sources and insinuating that 
he received the material from figures earlier in the Isnad(tadlts). Both Ibn 
Hanbal and, later, Ibn Hibban al-Bustl engaged in extensive research into 
Baqiyya's infractions in this area, expressing great concern and regret for 
previous confidence in him. Ibn Hibban observed that 'for less than this 
a person loses their upstanding status ( : adala): Both Abu Hatim al-Razi 
and the leading Shafi'I jurist and Hadith scholar Ibn Khuzayma declared 
Baqiyya unfit for use as proof (hujja), a conclusion that al-Bayhaql later 
described as a consensus position. Al-Juzajanl declared that Baqiyya could 
not be used as proof if he narrated a report from a source uncorroborated, 
and al-Nasa i concluded that he should not be heeded if he did not specify 
that he heard material directly from his source. 

All of these warnings apply exactly to the Hadith of the Seventy-Two 
Virgins. Besides Ismail's confused tangle of narrations, only Baqiyya 
transmits the Hadith from Bahir, and he does so by the ambiguous phrase 
'from' - not evidence of direct audition. Al-Fasawi observed that one of 
Baqiyya's faults was that he enjoyed 'entertaining and bawdy (milah wa 
taraif)' - and unreliable - Hadiths too much. Al-Dhahabi called him 'a 
man of anomalous, surprising and unacceptable Hadiths' (al-Dhahabi, 
Mizan, 1:339; Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib, 1:435-37). Taken together, these 


criticisms mean that any narrations coming through Bahlr cannot be 
accepted as reliable. \ 

There is another Hadith cluster with a very similar text narrated from 
the Companion Abii Hurayra. It quotes the Prophet as saying: 

The martyr is forgiven upon the first shedding of his blood. He is 
married to the heavenly beauties and is made an intercessor for 
seventy of his family. He who mans a fort on the frontier, if he dies 
there, the rewards of all his deeds till the Day of Judgment are written 
for him, a breeze comes to him every morning with his sustenance, 
he is given seventy Huris as companions, and it is said to him 'Stand 
and intercede' until the Hour of Accounting is done. 

This Hadith is found in the works of al-Tabaranl {al-Mujam al-kabir, 3:326) 
but inspires little confidence. Even the notoriously lax critics al-Suyuti and 
al-MunawI only rate it as hasan and weak respectively. The weakest point 
in the Isndd is al-Tabarani's own teacher, Bakr bin Sahl, who is criticized 
by some as unreliable and as having inexact narrations (muqarib al-hadith) 
in the eyes of al-Dhahabi (al-Suyuti, al-Jami' al-saghir, 305, no. 4963; 
al-Munawi, Fayd al-qadir, 7:3691-92; al-Dhahabi, Mizdn, 1:345-46). 

There are also other versions of this overall tradition that do not include 
the specification of seventy-two heavenly beauties and come via chains of 
transmission unrelated to those mentioned above; one in the Musnad of 
al-Bazzar (7:143) and one in Ibn Hanbal's Musnad (4:200). 


The presence of 'heavenly beauties' in Paradise is established by the 
Qur'an, as are the accolades and place in Heaven awarded to martyrs. 
Moreover, the collection of all the above transmissions, whether or not 
they can be accurately traced back to the Prophet or just to a Companion 
or other members of the early Muslim community, strongly indicate that 
reports were circulating among the first Muslim generations enumerat- 
ing several heavenly compensations given to martyrs and including the 
companionship of huris. This lies behind al-Albani's decision to rate these 
narrations collectively as sahih (al-Albani, Silsilat al-ahadith al-sahiha, 7, 
part 1:647-50, no. 3213). 


As for the specific number of seventy or seventy-two huris for each 
martyr, however, this hinges on the reliability of 1) the narrations via 
Bahir, and 2) the solitary narration from Abu Hurayra in al-Tabarani's 
works. Bahir's narrations fell victim to Isma'il bin Ayyash's confusion and 
are only otherwise known by the unreliable and inaccurate Baqiyya, who 
was known to take liberties with precisely such extravagant contents. The 
narration from Abu Hurayra collected by al-Tabarani is unreliable due to 
the questions surrounding Bakr bin Sahl, its solitary narrator. This col- 
lection of evidence does not seem to merit any rating higher than 'weak' 
(da if) for both of the Hadith clusters above. 


See Jami' al-Tirmidhi: kitdb fada'il al-jihad, bdb thawdb al-shahid; Sunan 
IbnMajah: kitdb al-jihad, bdb fadl al-shaddhafi sabti Allah; Musnad Ahmad 
Ibn Hanbal: 4:131; Ibn Abi 'Asim al-Nabil, Kitdb al-Jihdd, ed. Musa'id 
Sulayman al-Hamld, 2 vols (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 1989), 2:532-38; 
al-Bazzar, Musnad al-Bazzar, 7: 143; al-Tabaranl, al-Mu'jam al-kabir, 3:326. 



1. Safwat Hijazi speaking on the Risala channel, http;// 
v=UolfH5Szv6k&feature=related (last accessed 6/17/2012). 


3. Sahih Muslim: kitdb al-imara, bob hukm man farraqa amr al-muslimin wa huwa 

4. Al-Zurqani, Mukhtasar al-Maqasid al-hasana, 206. 

5. William Graham, 'Scripture,' in Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade (New 
York: MacMillan, 1987), 13:133-36. 

6. LucianofSamosata, A True Story,' in Selected Satires of Lucian, 14; G. W. Bowerstock, 
Fiction as History, 12,23. 

7. Voltaire, Essaisur les moeurs, 1:271-72. 

8. Thomas Carlyle, 'Hero as Prophet: Mahomet: Islam,' mCarlyle's Lectures onHeroes, 58. 

9. Georges Tartar, trans., Dialogue Islamo -Chretien sous le califs al-Ma'mun, 162. 

10. See 
freedom-of-religion-doesnt-apply-to-muslims; Glen Owen, 'Tony Blair says murder 
of Lee Rigby PROVES "there is a problem within Islam,"' Daily Mail/Mail Online, 
June 1, 2013 ( 

11. Montesquieu, D el' Esprit deslois, 2:800-802. 

12. George Huntston Williams, 'Erasmus and the Reformers on Non-Christian 
Religions and Salus Extra Ecclesiam,' in Action and Conviction in Early Mod em Europe, 
ed. Theodore K. Rabb and Jerrold E. Seigel, 342; Jonathan Lyons, Islam through Western 
Eyes, 62. 

13. Pierre Bayle, Dictionnaire historique et critique, 3:262; Mary Montagu, Letters, 
116 (Letter dated April 1, 1717). 

14. Scott Kugle, 'Framed, Blamed and Renamed: The Recasting of Islamic 
Jurisprudence in Colonial South Asia,' 289; E. P. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters, 

15. Voltaire, LeSieclede Louis XI V, 1009. 

16. Thomas Macaulay, 'Minute on Indian Education.' 

308 | NOTES 

17. Montesquieu, Lettres Persanes, 27-28. 

1 8. Ahmad Gunny, Perceptions of Islam in European Writings, 287, 290, 307. 

19. Jonathan Lyons, Islam through Western Eyes, 76, 95. 

20. Lyons, 91. 

21. Henri Saint-Simon, 'Introduction to the Scientific Studies of the 19th Century 
(1808),' in Social Organization, The Science of Man and Other Writings, 16. 


1. Although I draw the general outline of the Islamic legal tradition from the Insdf I 
also rely heavily on Shah Wali Allah's masterpiece, the Hujjat Allah al-Bdligha, with 
which the Insdf overlaps a great deal, as well as on his other writings on Sufism. 

2. SunanAblDdwud: kitab al-tahara, bah kardhiyat istiqbdl al-qibla 'indqada al-hdja. 

3. Robert Kirschner, "The Vocation of Holiness in Late Antiquity,' 118. 

4. Shah Wall Allah, Hujjat Allah al-bdligha (henceforth HAB), 2:460. 

5. Robert Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, 221; Adamnan of Iona, DeLocis 
Sanctis, ed. Denis Meehan (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1958), 43. 

6. Al-Khatlb explains that this Hadith was an egregious forgery; al-Khatlb al-Baghdadl, 
Tdrikh Baghdad, 9:455-56. 

7. Cited from al-Mada'ini's Kitab al-ahdath; Ahmad bin Sad al-DTn al-Miswari, al- 
Risdla al-munqidha min al-ghiwdyafi turuq al-riwdya, 51-55. 

8. Jalal al-DIn al-Suyutl, al-La'dli al-masnu'afi al-ahddith al-mawdua, 1:429-35. 

9. Al-Suyuti, al-Bdhir, 30-31. 

10. This opinion is attributed to Abdallah Ibn al-Mubarak (d. 797) and other Khurasani 
scholars; Abu Talib al-Makkl, Qut al-qulub, 1:130. 

11. HAB, 1:476. 

12. Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal: 5:12. 

13. Muhammad al-Khwarazmi./amj' masdnid al-imam al-a'zam, 1 : 126. 

14. Al-Khwarazmljami'masdnid, 2:280, 283. 

15. Al-SarakhsT, al-Mabsut, 9 : 153; Badr al-DIn al-'Ayni and Nasir al-Islam al-Rampurl, 
al-Bindya shark al-Hiddya, 6:392. 

16. Al-Sha'ranI, al-Mizdn al-kubrd, 1:124. 

17. Al-Aynl, Al-Bindya sharh al-Hiddya, 7:219-20; Ala s al-DIn al-Kasani, Badd'i' al- 
sand'i', 5:142. 

18. HAB, 1:442-43; Shah Wall Allah, al-Juz' al-latif 2-5. 

19. Muwatta': kitab al-buyu, bab al-khiyar; Salih Abd al-Salam aLAbl, al-Thamar 
al-ddni, 386. 

20. HAB, 2:336. 

21. See, for example, Soraya Altorki and Donald P. Cole, Arabian Oasis City, 65-66. 

22. Muwatta': kitab al-buyu', bab maja'afial-ribdfi al-dayn. 

23. Abu al-Rayhan al-Biruni, Tahqiqmdli'l-Hind, 1, 16. For a translation, see Alberuni's 
India, trans. Edward Sachau (New York: Norton & Co., 1971), 3-22; Shah Wall Allah, 
al-Irshdd ild muhimmat al-isndd, 3. 

24. HAB, 1:71, 74, 143. Shah Wall Allah actually cites this first report on the world 
as an old woman incorrectly. It is not a prophetic Hadith but rather a report from the 
Companion Ibn Abbas. See al-Ghazali, Ihyd" 'ulum al-din, 3:2026. 

NOTES | 309 

25. Arthur Jeffery, 'Ghevond's Text of the Correspondence between 'Umar II and 
Leo 111/ 328-29. 

26. Abu Hilal al- Askarl, Kitab al-Awd'il, 2:119. 

27. Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, 69; John Mair, 'The Text of the Opuscula 
Sacra,'in Boethius, His Life, Thought and Influence, 209-11. 

28. Majid Fakhry, A History of Islamic Philosophy, 57. 

29. Al-Zamakhshari, al-Kashshdf, 4:754. 

30. Sahih Muslim: kitab al-qadar, bdb hijdjAdam wa Musd. 

31. HAB, 1:481. 

32. This statement was attributed to Maymun bin Mihran (d. 735-36); Shah Wall 
Allah, al- Insdf 51. 

33. Zafar Ishaq Ansari, 'Islamic Juristic Terminology before Shafi'i: A Semantic 
Analysis with Special Reference to Kufa,' 282-87. 

34. Al-Shafi'i, al-Risdla, 534-35; idem, al-Umm, 7:257. 

35. HAB, 2:487. 

36. Al-Shafi'i, al-Umm, 7:250; idem, al-Risdla, 111. 

37. Al-Darimi, Sunan, 1:153. 

38. Al-San'ani, Subul al-saldm, 3:170. 

39. Al -Khattabi, Ma'dlim al-sunan, 1 : 174, See chapter 5 for more on this question. 

40. Ahmad al-Ghumarl, Masdlik al-dildla 'aid masa'il main al-Risdla, 217-18; Ibn 
Rushd, Distinguished Jurist's Primer, 2:259-60. 

41. HAB, 1:400. 

42. Al-Shafi'i, Risala, 89, 226, 403. 

43. Abu Talib al-Makkl, Qut al-qulub, 1 : 1 37; Shah Wall Allah, al-Irshdd ild muhimmat 
al-isndd, 3. 

44. 'Idhd haddatha al-thiqa 'an al-thiqa hatta yantahiya ild rasul Allah (s) fa-huwa 
Mbit 'an rasul Allah (s)'; al-Shafi'I, al-Umm, 7:177. 

45. Al-Shafi'I, al-Risdla, 370-83; Ibn AdT, al-Kdmil, 1:125. 

46. This statement comes from the famous Basran Hadith critic Abd al-Rahman bin 
Mahdl, at whose request al-Shafi'I supposedly wrote his Risdla; Jdmt al-Tirmidhi: 
kitab fadd'il al-jihdd, bdb ma jd'a fi-man yuqdtilu riya'an wa li'l-dunyd. 

47. M-Khvr&razmijdmi'masanid, 2:236, 242. 

48. Literally, 'az jihat-i ittibd';' Shah Wall Allah, Musaffd, 1 =294. 

49. Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal: 1:21,46. 

50. Ibn Qutayba, Ta'wil mukhtalif al-hadith, 208. 

51. HAB, 1:51. „ . . . , 

52. Jonathan Brown, 'How We Know Early Hadith Critics Did Main Criticism, 


53. Jonathan Brown, 'The Rules oiMatn Criticism: There Are No Rules. 

54. Christopher Melchert, 'Tne Musnad of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal,' 32-51. 

55. Abu Talib al-Makkl, Qut al-qulub, 1:177. , 

56. Ibn Qudama, Mughni, 2:162-66; al-Buhiitl, al-Rawd al-murbi', 115; al-Albam, 
Irwa al-ghalil, 3:61-63. 

57. Al-BuhutI, al-Rawd al-murbi' , 104. 

58. Jami' al-Tirmidhi: kitab al-zakat, bdb md ja'afifadl al-sadaqa; cf. kitab sifat al- 

59. Ibn AblHatim, Tafsir, apudal-SuyuG; al-Durral-manthur, 6: 190;Jdmi' al-Tirmidhr. 
kitab al-da'wdt, bab fihusn al-zann billdh. 

310 | NOTES 

60. Some Mutazila considered the Antichrist to be an allegory for evil forces at the 
end of time. On the issue of the Punishment of the Grave, some early Mutazila denied 
it altogether while others argued it was only for unbelievers, not sinful Muslims; Ibn 1 
Qayyim, Kitab al-Ruh, 111. 

61. Al-KhatTb al-Baghdadl, Tdrikh Baghdad,! 

62. Al-Dhahabi, Siyar a'lam al-nubala, 11:125, 

63. Abu Ja'far al-TahawI, Shark Mushkil al-Athar, 3:272-77. 

64. AlawT al-Saqqaf, Majmu'at sab'at kutub mufida, 52. 

65. Selma Zecevic, 'Missing Husbands, Waiting Wives, Bosnian Muftis' 348; al- 
Sha'rani, al-Mlzdn al-kubra, 2:153-54. 

66. M-T)hahabi,Baydnraghala!-'ilmwa'l-talab, 12; YossefRapoport, 'Legal Diversity 
in the Age of Taqlid,' 219-25. 

67. Ibn al-jawzl, al-Muntazam, 18:32; Taj al-DIn al-Subki, Tabaqat al-shdfi'iyya al- 
kubra, 8:231-33. 

68. This was the famous debate between Sharif al-Jurjanl and Sa'd al-DIn al-Taftazanl; 
Abd al-Hayy al-LaknawI, Tarab al-amdthil bi-tardjim al-afddil, 267-68; 'Ala' al-Din 
al-RGml, Risalat al-Nikat wa'l-as'ila, Istanbul Suleymaniye Library, Sehid Ali Pasa 
Ms. 277, 2a-2b. 

69. This comes from the travel account of Ibn Fadlan's embassy to the newly Muslim 
king of the Bulghars in the Volga region in 921 ce, perhaps better known as Antonio 
Banderas in The 13th Warrior, an adaptation of Michael Crichton's fictionalized The 
Eaters of the Dead; James Montgomery, 'Ibn Fadlan and the Rusiyyah,' 19-20. 

70. Hujjat al-lslam Abu Hamid al-Ghazall, Mi'ydr al-'ilm, 127-28. 

71. Jonathan Brown, 'Did the Prophet Say it or Not?/ 261-62. 

72. Augustine, Enchiridion, 4; Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 16-19. 

73. Brown, 'Did the Prophet Say it or Not?,' 262-63. 

74. Ibn Nujaym, al-Ashbdh wa'l-nazd'ir, 83. 

75. For another fascinating case of an Egyptian HanafT s cholar allowing a man to follow 
the Hanafi school on one issue of ritual purity and the Maliki school on another, see 
Abu al-Ikhlas Hasan al-ShurunbuIali (d. 1658), 'al-'Iqd al-farld fi bayan al-rajih min 
al-khilaf fi jawaz al-taqlid,' mMajallatJdmi'at Umm al-Qura, ed. Khalid b. Muhammad 
al-'Arusi, 17, no. 32 (1425/[200S]): 704-706. 

76. Shah Wall Allah, al-Tafhimdt al-ildhiyya, 2:154; Mir Ibrahim Siyalkoti, Tdrikh-i 
Ahl-iHadis, 658. 

77. J. M. S. Baljon, 'Shah Waliullah and the Dargah,' in Sufism andSociety inMedieval 
India, 111. 

78. Al-KhatTb al-BaghdadT, Tdrikh Baghdad,! 

79. Sahih al-Bukhdri: kitab al-raqaiq, bob al-tawadu'. 

80. Al-AlbanI, Silsilat al-ahddith al-sahiha, 2:187-90 (no. 621); Sahih Muslim: kitab 
al-fadd'il, bob min fadd'il Musa. 

81. Simon Digby, "The Sufi Shaikh as a Source of Authority in Medieval India,' in 
India's Islamic Traditions, 711-1750, 256. 

82. Itzchak Weismann, The Naqshbandiyya, 66. 

83. H. A. R. Gibb, trans., The Travels of Ibn Battuta, 2:273-74. 

84. Al-NabhanI,/amf kardmdt al-awliya', 2:392. 

85. Al-Sha'rani, Tabaqat al-kubra, 1 1. For an expanded version of this quotation, see 
Abu Talib al-Makkl, Out al-qulub, 1 : 121. 

86. Some scholars agreed that the man did not have to pay the Zakat, but Tzz al-DIn 
Ibn Abd al-Salam overruled them; Muhammad al-Zurqanl, Shark al-Muwatta', 2: 139. 

NOTES | 311 

87. Shah Wall Allah, Manaqib al-Bukhdri wa fadilat Ibn Taymiyya, 26. 

88. Muwaffaq al-Din Ibn Qudama, 'Dhamm al-ta'wil,' 87; idem, Tahrim al-nazar 32 
42, 65. See also Ibn Taymiyya, Majmu'at al-fatdwa, 4: 171. 

89. The first book mentioned here is Ibn al-Jawzi's (d. 1201) famous 'The Misleading 
of Satan' (Talbis Iblls), the second is Abu Shama al-Maqdisi's (d. 1268) 'Spurring the 
Rejection of Heresy' (al-Bd'ith 'aid inkar al-bida'). Along with Ibn Taymiyya, a staunch 
critic of theosophical Sufism was his friend and colleague Shams al-Din al-Dhahabl 
(d. 1348); see al-Dhahabi, Mizdn al-i'tiddl, 1:431. 

90. This comes from the late fifteenth- century Moro ccan scholar aLMaghili's answers 
to the sultan of Songhay, Askia Muhammad; John 0. Hunwick, ed., Shari'a in Songhay 

91. Shah Wall Allah, al-Insdf, 68; al-Makkl, Out al-qulub, 1:159-60. 

92. HAB, 1:224-25; Baljon, 'Shah Waliullah and the Dargah,' 110-17. 

93. HAB, 2:25. 

94. Shmuel Moreh, trans., Napoleon in Egypt, 36. 

95. This scholar was William Muir (d. 1905); Avril Powell, Scottish Orientalists and 
India, 160-65. 

96. Moreh, 153. 


1. Sahih al-Bukhdri: kitab al-tibb, bab idhd waqa'a al-dhubdbfi al-ina'. 

2. Sahih al-Bukhdri: kitab al-adhdn,bdb fadl al-ta 'dhin ; Umar Ryad, Islamic Reformism 
and Christianity, 55; G. H. A. Juynboll, The Authenticity of Tradition Literature, 41; 
Mahmud Abu Rayya, Adwa' 'aid al-sunna al-muhammadiyya, 199, 279, 301. 

3. See, for example, Augustine, City of God, 16:9. 

4. Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalanl, Path al-Bari, 2: 108-109; Muhammad Zakariyya al-Kandhlawi, 
Awjaz al-masalik, 2:31-32. 

5. Ibn Hajar, Path al-Bdri, 6:452-53; Sahih al-Bukhdri: kitab ahadith al-anbiya', bdb 
khalqAdam wa dhurriyyatihi. 

6. Delchaye, The Work of the Bollandists, 48, 147. 

7. Owen Chadwick, Secularization of the European Mind, 164. 

8. The prediction of the 'return of the Virgin' and the 'birth of a child' is in Virgil's 
fourth Eclogue; Virgil, Eclogues, 29; Edward Gibbon, Decline and PaU of the Roman 
Empire, 1:651-52; David Cressy, 'Books as Totems in Seventeenth-Century England 
and New England,' 99. 

9. Frank Kermode, Sense of an Ending, 58-63. 

10. Moshe Halbertal, The People of the Book, 27-29. 

11. Robert Grant, 'Historical Criticism in the Ancient Church,' 184. 

1 2. Donald Russell and David Constant, trans ., Heraclitus: Homeric Problems, xn, 1 1 1 . 

13. Kermode, Genesis of Secrecy, 57 ff. 

14. Eusebius, History of the Church, 4-5 (1.2.4-12) (Genesis 18:1-2). 

15. Beryl Smalley, Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, xiv, 303, 306. 

16. Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, 100-101, 114-15, 153, 164. 

1 7. Such stories include the drunk Lot sleeping with his daughters: Origen, 'On First 
Principles,' in Origen, 180, 187-88. 

18. Hermann Reimarus, Fragmercis, 231-32. 

19. Cicero, The Nature of the Gods, 1:60-62, 71-73 (pp. 94, 98); Gibbon, Decline and 
Pall, 1:27. 

312 | NOTES 

20. Voltaire, Oeuvres Completes, 26:511 (Letter VII 'Surles Francais'). 

21. Ogier de Busbecq, Turkish Letters, 82. 

22. Ovamir Anjum, Politics, Law and Community in Islamic Thought, xiv. 

23. Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, 28; Chadwick, The Secularization of the 
European Mind, 14; Timothy Larson, 'Bishop Colenso and His Critics,' in The Eye of 
the Storm, 45. 

24. 'Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi, 'Umm al-Qura,' 329; Muhammad Bakhlt al-Muti'I, 
'Kitab Ahsan al-kalam fi-ma yata'allaqu bi'l-sunna wa'hbid'a min al-ahkam,' 3, 30. 

25. Murtada al-Ridawi, Ma'a rijdl al-fikr ft al-Qahira, 315-20. 

26. Al-Juwayni, al-Kafiyafi al-jadal, 51; Ibn Arnlr al-Hajj, al-Taqrirwa'l-tahbir, 1:145. 

27. Al-Nawawl, Shark Sahih Muslim, 1/2:331-32; Leo Lefebure, 'Violence in the 
New Testament and the History of Interpretation,' 76. 

28. Jala! al-DIn al-SuyutT, Badhl al-majhud li-khizdnat Mahmud, 15a-15b. 

29. The Hadith reads 'Ayat al-munafiq thaldth, idhd haddatha kadhaba, wa idhd 
wa'ada akhlafa wa idhd u'tumina khan; Sahih al-Bukhdri: kitab al-imdn, bab 'alamat 
al-mundfiq; Jdmi' al-Tirmidhi: kitab al-imdn, bab ma jd'afi 'alamat al-munafiq. 

30. Ibn Qudama, Mughni, 1 :43; al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim, 3/4:306; al-Qurtubl, 
Jdmi', 4:448. 

31. Al-Hakim al-Naysaburi, al-Mustadrak, 2:313; Sulayman Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, al- 
Sawa'iq al-ilahiyya, 20. An earlier attestation of Ibn Abbas' statement can be found 
in the context of another Hadith; see Jdmi' al-Tirmidhi: kitab al-iman, bab majd'a fi 
sibab al-muslim fusuq. See also Majid Khadduri, trans., The Islamic Law of Nations: 
Shaybani's Siyar, 92-93. 

32. Augustine, Enarratio in Psalmum, 45:7. 

33. The Hadith reads, 'Shahra 'id Id yanqusdni ramaddn wa dhu al-hijja'. See Sahih 
al-Bukhdri: kitab al-sawm, bdbshahrd 'id la yanqusdn; Jdmi' al-Tirmidhi: kitab al-sawm, 
bab md jd'afi shahra 'id la yanqusdn; al-Khattabi, Ma'dlim al-sunan, 2:95. 

34. Al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim, 1/2:374; a[-Munsm,Faydal-qadir, 12:6506-507; 
Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bdri, 1:83. 

35. Babylonian Talmud Bava Mezia 59a-59b. The first quote, attributed to the Talmud 
(What is the Torah...) I found in D. S. Russell's From Early Judaism to Early Church, 34. 
I have not been able to find the original citation. I thank my colleague Jonathan Ray 
for his help. 

36. Desiderius Erasmus, 'Concerning the Eating of the Fish,' in The Essential 
Erasmus, 292; 'Wa hddhd al-Qur'dn innamd huwa khatt mastur bayn daffatayn la 
yantiqu innamd yatakallamu bihi al-rijdl' ; al-Tabari, Tdrikh al-rusulwa'l-muluk, 3:110 
(Year 36 AH, section on i'tizdl al-khawdrij 'Aliyyan). 

37. James Madison, Federalist Papers, 354-55 (Federalist 37). 

38. Al-Juwayni, Waraqdt, 26. 

39. Al-Juwaynf, Waraqdt, 28-30. 

40. Al-Juwayni, Waraqdt, 36-38. 

41. Al-Juwayni, Waraqdt, 46. 

42. Abu Shama al-Maqdisi, al-Bd'ith 'aid inkar al-bida' , 16; al-Albani, Fatdwd, 10, 49, 
188; Shams al-Din al-SakhawI, Takhrij al-Arba'in al-Sulamiyya, 149-50. 

43. Jdmi' al~Tirmidhi:kitdb al-birrwa'l-sila,bdbmdjaafirahmatal-sibydn; Ibn Hajar, 
Fath al-Bdri, 13:30. See also Qur'an 2:249. 

44. Al-Khattabi, Ma'dlim al-sunan, 4:198; Sahih al-Bukhdri: kitab al-libds, bab man 
jarra thawbahu ghayr khuyala'. 

NOTES | 313 

45. Ibn Taymiyya, Majmuat al-fatawd, 27: 15-17; al-Khattabl, 2:222. 

46. Khatib al-Baghdadi, Tdrikh Baghdad, 6:115. 

47. 'Al-'ibra bi-'umum al-lafz la bi-khusus al-sabab'; Ali Gomaa, al-Tariq ild al- 
turdth, 207; al-Shawkanl, Nayl al-awtdr, 8:112. 

48. Al-QurtubL/ami', 10:442-45. 

49. Al-Zarkashl, al-Bahr al-muhit, 2:365. 

50. Al-Bayhaqi, al-Sunan, 7: 323; Muhammad bin All al-'Umarl al-Dimashq], al-Nazm 
al-mufid al-ahmad fi mufraddt madhhab al-imdm Ahmad, 83; al-Shawkani, 'Bulugh 
al-muna fi hukm al-istimna,' 163-64. 

5 1 . Al-Khattabi, Ma'dlim al-sunan, 3 : 1 8 1 ; Jdmi' al- Tirmidhi; kitab tafsir al- Qur'an, bab 
min siira tal-nur, al-Qurtubl, al-Jdmi', 6:470; Shihab al-Din al-Zanjani, Takhrij al-furu' 
'aid al-usul, 237-38. 

52. Sahih al-Bukhdri: kitab al-jana'iz, bab laysa minnd man daraba al-khudud. 

5 3. Sahih Muslim: kitab al-jana'iz, bab al-mayyityu 'adhdhabu bi-buka' ahlihi 'alayhi; 
Jdmi' al-Tirmidhi: kitab al-jana'iz, bob majd'a fi kardhiyat al-bukd' 'aid al-mayyit. 

54. Al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim, 5/6:483-85; Ibn Qudama, Mughni, 2:412. 

55. Ibn Qudama, Mughni, 2:411. 

56. Sunan Abi Ddwud: kitdb al-mandsik, bab al-raml. 

57. Ibn Qudama, Mughni, 2:696-98; al-jawl, Qutal-habib al-gharib, 109; al-Sha'ranl, 
al-Mizdn al-kubrd, 2:15. 

58. Al-Suyuti, al-Itqdn, 4:162. 

59. Jdmi' al-Tirmidhi: kitdb al-iman, bab majd'a fi-manyamutu wa huwa yashhadu 
an Id ildh ilia Allah. 

60. Sunan Abi Ddwud: kitdb al-jand'iz, bdb fiziydrat al-qubur. 

61. Jdmi' al-Tirmidhi: kitab al-tahdra, bab majd'a fitark al-wudu' mimmd ghayyarat 

62. Abu al-Qasim Ibn Salama, al-Ndsikh wa'l-mansukh, 16. 

63. Al-Qurtubl, aZ-Zami', 8:512-13. 

64. Ibn Salama, al-Nasikh wa'l-mansukh, 46. 

65. Ibn Qudama, Mughni, 10:367. 

66 Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bdri, 1:113-15. Ibn Rushd claims that jurists agree that those 
to be fought in Jihad are only polytheists (mushrikun). The Hanbali Ibn Qudama 
disagrees, stating that the People of the Book are preferred targets on the basis of a 
prophetic Hadith in the Sunan of Abu Dawud to this effect. Otherscholars merely note 
•unbelievers' as a whole; Ibn Rushd, Distinguished Jurist's Primer, 1:455; Ibn Qudama, 
Mughni, 10:370; aVBuhutl, al-Rawd al-murbi', 221. 

67 Al-Sha'ranl, Kashf al-ghumma 'anjami' al-umma, 6-7; idem, al-Mizan al-kubra, 
2:67; J. Baljon, Religion and Thought of Shah Wali Allah Dihlawt, 149. 

68. Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Common Law, 3. 

69. Mulla 'All al-Qari', Sharh Sharh Nukhbat al-fikar, 59. 

70. Al-Khattabl, Ma'dlim al-sunan, 1:115; al-Shafi'i, Risdla, 341. 

71. Al-Shafi% al-Umm, 7:177; idem, al-Risdla, 280-81; al-Juwayni, Waraqat, 59-65. 

72. Al-Bayhaqi, al-Sunan, 2:101. 

73. Al-Bayhaqi, al-Sunan, 2:1 1 1. 

74. Al-Bayhaqi, al-Sunan, 2:114. 

75. Al-Bayhaqi, al-Sunan, 2: 1 13, 1 16. 

76. Abu Ja'far al-Tahawi, Sharh Mushkil al-Athdr, 15:42-49. 

77. Al-Tahawi, 15:30-34, 46-50, 55-59. 

314 | NOTES 

78. Al-Tahawl, 15:38. 

79. Al-Tahawl, 15:39. 

80. Al-Haytami, al-Fatdwa al-hadithiyya, 266-70. ^ 

8 1 . Burhan al-DIn al-Bayjurl, Hashiya 'aid Jawharat al-tawhid, 229; Mulla 'All al-Qari', 
Shark Nukhbat alfikar, 47. 

82. QadI 'Iyad, Kitdb al-Shifd, 106-11; al-Bayjuri, Hashiya, 233. 

83. Ryad, "The Dismissal of A. J. Wensinck from the Royal Academy of the Arabic 
Language in Cairo,' 97. 

84. Erasmus, The Praise of Folly, 89-102; Nikki R. Keddie, An Islamic Response to 
Imperialism, 64. 

85. St. Anselm of Bee, Monologion and Proslogion, 99. Based on Augustine's saying 
'Believe that you may understand (crede ut intelligas)' ; Sermon 43.7, 9. 


1. Mehemmet Zahit Kevseri; Maqdldt al-Kawthari, 192-94, 208, 265-67, 280-81. 

2. Origen, 'On First Principles,' in Origen, 189-90; Voltaire, 'Miracles,' Dictionnaire 
Philosophique, 57: 1 10- 14. 

3. Pseudo -Augustine, 'Mirabilis Sacrae Scripturae,' in Operum S. Augustini: 
Appendix, 2165. 

4. I borrow this distinction from the late Mohammed 'Abed al-Jabri, Arab-Islamic 
Philosophy, 36. 

5. Spinoza, Theological- Political Treatise, 119-51; Abraham Ibn Ezra, The Commentary 
of Abraham ibn Ezra on the Penta teuch, 5:181; Thomas Woolston, A third discourse on 
the miracles of our Saviour, 53. Woolston justifies applying the allegorical approach to 
the New Testament by referring to Origen's allegorical reading of certain miraculous 
occurrences in the life of Jesus, particularly the Parable of the Fig Tree. 

6. Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, 57. 

7. Lee I. Levine, Judaism and Hellenism in Antiquity, 96 ff. 

8. J. S. Spink, French Free-Thought, 23, 31. 

9. Ryad, "The Dismissal of A. J. Wensinck,' 114. 

10. Indira Falk Gesinke, Islamic Reform and Conservatism, 177-82. 

11. Al-SuyutI, al-Khasd'is al-kubrd,l:53; IbnKathir, The Life of the Prophet Muhammad, 
1:149-50; Ibn al-Qayyim, Zddal-mi'dd, 1:81-82. Mulla 'All al-Qari' and others agree; 
Ahmad Shihab al-DIn al-Khafaji and Mulla 'All al-Qari', Nasim al-riydd sharh Shifa 
al-Qddi Tyad, 1:364. 

12. Rashid Rida and Muhammad 'Abduh, Tafsir al-Mandr, 5 : 20 1 -209; Ibn Taymiyya, 
Majmu'at al-fatdwd, 11:1 96. 

13. Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, 'Review on Hunter's Indian Musalmans,' 81; Sahih al- 
Bukhdri: kitdb al-jihdd wa'l-siyar, bob du'd' al-na bi (s) al-nds ild al-isldm wa'l-nubuwwa. 

14. RashidRida, The Muhammadan Revelation, 121, 137-38. Rida relies especially on 
the Quranic verses 2: 190 and 22:39-40. 

15. Bruce Lawrence, ed., Messages to the World; 28, 1 19, 124-25. 

16. D. M. Last and M. A. Al-Hajj, Attempts at Defining a Muslim in 19th-century 
Hausaland and Bornu,' 239; Lawrence, Messages to the World; 93, 122 (based on Qur'an 
5:51). I am grateful to my mother, Dr. Ellen Brown, and her incredible collection of 
material for some of these obscure references. 

NOTES | 315 

17. Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, 58, 77, 83, 93. 

18. See, for example, Bernard Haykel, trans,, 'Al-Qaeda's Creed and Path,' in Global 
Salafism, 52-54. 

19. Lawrence, Messages to the World, 28, 61, 115, 124-25. 

20. Lawrence, Messages to the World, 24; Sahih al-Bukhari: kitdb al-jihdd wa'l-siyar, 
bab hal yustashfa'u ild ahl al-dhimma. 

2 1 . Sunan AbiDdwud: kitdb al-kharaj wa'l-imara wa'l-fay', bdbfi ikhraj al-yahud min 
jaziratal-'arab; Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bdri, 6:210; H. A. R. Gibb, trans., The Travelsoflbn 
Battuta, 1:163. 

22. Al-Nawawi, Minhdj, 526; al-Sha'ranl, al-Mizdn al-kubrd, 2:211; Ibn 'Abidln, 
Hdshiyat Radd al-muhtar, 4:208-209; Ibn ahMundhir, al-Ishraf 4:56. 

23. Karam Zuhdi, et al, Hurmat al-ghuluwwfi al-din, 8-9. 

24. ZuhdL Hurmat al-ghuluww, 56-57, 112-13, 116-18, 160. 

25. Al-Albani, Fatdwd al-Shaykh al-Albani, 252 ff., 296; idem, 'Hadith al- 
Bukhari,' recorded lecture 5/1990 from 
a=lessons&scholar_id=47, last accessed 5/28/2004. • 

26. This interpretation of the Hadith comes from the Yemeni Salafi teacher Muqbil 
bin Hadi al-Wadi'T (d. 2001); al-Wadi'I, Majmu' fatdwd at-Wddi'i, 74. See also al-Qari', 
Mirqdt al-mafdtih, 9:324. 

27. Raghib al-Sirjani, Kayfa takhtdru ra'is al-jumhuriyya, 1 1, 25. 

28. Dalia Mogahed, 'What Egyptian Women and Men Want,' Foreign Policy, March 10, 
and_men_want#3 (last accessed 9/10/2012); 'Egyptians Remain Optimistic, Embrace- 
Democracy and Religion in Political Life,' Pew Research Global Attitudes Project: 
Chapter 4, 
(last accessed 9/2013). 

29. Nathan Brown, The Rule of Law in the Arab World, 32-33. 

30. Farhat Ziadeh, Lawyers, the Rule of Law andLiberalism in Modern Egypt, 34-35; 
Peter Mansfield, The British in Egypt, 128. 

3 1. Clark Lombardi, State Law as Islamic Law in Modern Egypt, 92-98; Ziadeh, 144. 

32. Ahmad Shakir, Maqdldt, 2:592-622. 

33. Muhammad al-Ghazall, Turdthund al-fikri, 169. 

34. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, al-Shaykh al-Ghazalikama 'araftuhu, 54. 

35. Al-Ghazali, al-Sunna al-nabawiyya, 53, 58. 

36 Sahih al-Bukhari: kitdb al-maghdzi, bab 83; kitdb al-fitan, bab 17; Ibn Hajar, 
Fat}}' al-Bdri, 13:69-71; al-Munawi, Fayd al-qadir, 10:5062; al-Ghazalt, al-Sunna al- 
nabawiyya, 53-58; idem, Turdthund al-fikri, 175; Abd al-Hosein Zarrinkub, 'The Arab 
Conquest of Iran and its Aftermath,' Cambridge History of Iran, 4:17. 

37. Haifaa Khalafallah, 'Rethinking Islamic Law,' 162-68. On the issue of considering 
women's testimony in court equal to men's, aLGhazali was repeating an argument 
advanced by his reformist mentor, the Shaykh al-Azhar Mahmud Shaltut, who also 
noted Ibn Taymiyya's and Ibn Qayyim's arguments mentioned below; Mahmud Shaltut, 
al-Isldm 'aqida wa shari'a, 239-41. 

38. Al- Albanl, Mukhtasar Sahih al-Bukhdri, 2:8-9. . 

39. Al-Qaradawi, al-Shaykh al-Ghazdli kama 'araftuhu, 173; Ibn Qayyim, I'latn al- 
muwaqqi'in, 1:94-96. 

40. Al-Qaradawi, al-Fatawa al-shddhdha, 33-35. 

41. 'Aiawi bin Ahmad al-Saqqaf, 'Mukhtasar al-Fawa'id al-Makkiyya,' 104. 

42. ALSirjani, 25. See Sahih al-Bukhdri: kitdb al-maghdzi, bob 83. 

316 | NOTES 

43. Ryan Kisiel, 'British child brides: Muslim mosque leaders agree to marry girls as 
young as 12... as long as parents don't tell anyone' MailOnline, http://www.dailym.ail. -mosque-leaders-agree-t 
%2Fsearch.htmI%3Fs%3D%26authornamef%3DSuzannah%2BHills (last accessed 

44. Wency Leung, 'She's 23. He's 69. What gives?', The Globe andMail, August 28, 20 12, 
article4504707/; 'al-Shaykh al-Qaradawi yatazawwaju min maghribiyya tasghuruhu 
bi-37 am', June 13, 2012 (last accessed July 2012); 'Nigerian Senator 
"Married" 13-year old girl,' Independent, April 30, 2010. 

45. CNN World Jan. 17, 2009, 
child.marriage_l saudi-arabia-deepIy-conservative-kingdom-top-saudi-cleric?_ 
s=PM:WORLD (last accessed July 2012). 

46. For contemporary attempts to refute Aisha's marriage age, see David Liepert, 
'Rejecting the Myth of Sanctioned Child Marriage in Islam,' Huffington Post, January 29, 
201 1, http://\TOw.lHi(migtonpost.corn/dr-david-liepert/islamic-pedophelia_b_814332. 
html (last accessed 10/2/2012); Myriam Francois-Cerrah, 'The Truth about 
Muhammad and Aisha,' The Guardian, September 17, 20.12, httpr// commentisfree/belief/20 1 2/sep/ 1 7/muhammad-aisha-truth (last accessed 
10/1/2012); Islam Buhayrl, 'Zawaj al-Nabl min A'isha wa hiya bint 9 sinln kadhiba 
kablra fi kutub al-hadith,' al-Yawm al-sabi', October 16, 2008, http://wwwl.youm7. 
com/News.asp?NewsID=44788&SecID=137&IssueID=0 (last accessed July 2013). 

47. See Mohammed Fadel, 'Reinterpreting the Guardian's Role in the Islamic Contract 
of Marriage,' 1 -26. 

48. A rare Hadith in which the Prophet annuls the marriage contract of a young virgin 
whose father had married her without consent is rej ected as proof due to a break in the 
chain of transmission; Sunan Abi Ddumd: kitab al-nikdh, bab fi al-bikr yuzawwijuhd 
abulia wa Id yasta'miruha; al-Rayhnqi, Sunan, 7 :188-90. 

49. Shaykh Nizam, al-Fatdwd al-Hindiyya, 1:316. 

50. Al-Nawawi, Shark Sahih Muslim, 9/10:218; al-Buhuti, al-Rawd al-murW, 383; 
Ibrahim Bin Duwayyan, Manor al-sabil, 2:216; Alexander Russell, A Natural History of 
Aleppo, 1:281; Mahmoud Yazbak, 'Minor Marriages and khiyar al-bulugh in Ottoman 
Palestine,' 395. Evidence that the Prophet waited for Aisha to reach physical maturity 
before consummation comes from al-Tabari, who s ays she was too young for intercourse 
at the time of the marriage contract; al-Tabari, Tdrikh al-Tabari, 2:21 1; Allan Christelow, 
Muslim Law Courts and the French Colonial State in Algeria, 62-63, 124-28. 

51. See Liat Kozma, Policing Egyptian Women, 31-38. 

52. Tatar, Dialogue Islamo-Chretien, 150-51; Ludovico Marracci, 'Prodromus,' in 
Alcorani textus universus, 23. The original report about the Prophet seeing Aisha in a 
dream contains nothing prurient or suggestive: T was shown you in a dream on two 
occasions. I saw a man carrying you [veiled] in white silk, and he said, "This is your 
wife." Then he onveiled you and I saw you and said, "If this is from God, he will make it 
so'"; Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Ibn Ishaq, ed. Muhammad Hamid Allah (Rabat: Ma'had al-Dirasat 
wa'l-Abhath, 1976), 239. 

53. Edward Lane, Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, 160; D. S. 
Margoliouth, Mohammad and the Rise of Islam, 29-30, 234. See also Simon Ockley, 
History of the Saracens, 19; Washington Irving, Life of Mohammed, ed. Charles Getchell 
(Ipswich, MA: Ipswich Press, 1989), 55. 

NOTES | 317 

54. Alan Macfarlane, The Origins of English Individualism, 27-28; Encyclopaedia 
Britannica, 11th ed., s.v. 'Rape'. The England of Margoliouth's youth saw a further 
increase in the average age of women marrying; J. A. and Olive Banks, Feminism and 
Family Planning in Victorian England, 45; Najm al-Din al-GhazzI, al-Kawdkib al-sd'ira 

55. Macfarlane, 155-58. 

56 . Daniel Klerman, 'Rape : English Common Law,' Oxford International Encyclopedia 
of 'Legal History, 5:68-69. 

57. Leila Ahmed, Women, Gender and Islam, 152-53; Kozma, Policing Egyptian 
Women, 31-38. 

58. 1923 Update to Article 101 of Law 31, 1910; Muhammad Abu al-Fadl al-Glzawx, 
'Qanun Tahdid sinn al-zawaj,' al-MuhdmdtA, no. 4 (1924): 398. Ziadehhas it as Law 56, 
December 11, 1923; Ziadeh, 123; Leila Ahmad, 176-77; Beth Baron, 'Making and 
Breaking Mari tal B onds in Modern Egypt,' 282. 

59. 'Abduh, al-A'mdl al-kdmila, 2:76-92. 

60. Amir al-'Aqqad, Lamahdt minhaydt al-Aqqdd, 369. 

61. Abbas Mahmud al-'Aqqad, al-Siddiqa bint al-Siddiq, 66-67. 

62. Ahmad Shakir, Abater, 1:196; 353-69. 

63. 'Abduh, al-A'mdl al-kdmila, 2:80. 

64. Kevseri, Maqdldt, 82, 167-68, 192, 208. 

65. Abd al-Halsm Mahmud, Fatdwd, 2:132,434. 

66. David Ayalon, 'The Great Yasa of Chingiz Khan,' 124-25. 

67. Gibb, The Travels of Ibn Battuta, 3:545; 2:378. See Guy Burak, 'The Second 
Formation of Islamic Law,' 594 ff. 

68. Ayalon, 108-109, 115. 

69. Rudolph Peters, Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law, 11. 

70. 'Abd al-Ghani Nabulusi, al-Hadiqa al-nadiyya, 2:234. Here al-Nabulusi is either 
modifying or clarifying an opinion he expressed earlier in a treatise arguing for the 
permissibility of smoking. One of the arguments he notes against him was that the 
'sultan had prohibited it.' Al-Nabulusi objects that the ruler can only forbid what is 
prohibited by God's law; idem, Risdlafi ibdhat al-dukhdn, 8. 

71. Alan Guenther, 'Hanafi Fiqh in Mughal India: The Fatdwd-i 'Alamgirt,' 212-16, 
223-24. There is a major discrepancy in a much-relied-upon translation of Aurangzeb's 
aims. The Elliot translation of the Mir'dt al-alam, a history attributed to Bakhtawar 
Khan, one of the emperor's courtiers, states that the Fatawa would 'render everyone 
independent of Moslem doctors [i.e., ulama] .' The original Persian text, edited by Sajida 
Alvi, reads that the Fatawa 'will make the other books of jurisprudence unnecessary 
[az sdyir-i kutub-ifiqhi moghni khwdhad)..'. See Bakhtawar Khan, 'Mirat-i Alam, m 
The History of India as Told by its Own Historians, ed. H. M. Elliot and John Dawson, 
7:160. Cf. Bakhtavar Khan, Mir'dt al-'dlam, ed. Sajida Sultana Alvi, 2 vols (Lahore: 
Research Society of Pakistan, 1969), 1:388. 

72. Gizawi, 397-98; Ziadeh, 124. 

73. J. N. D. Anderson, 'The Syrian Law of Personal Status,' 36-37. 

74. In his discussion of Aisha's marriage age, al-Ghazali insists that, whatever her age, 
Aisha was suitable and fit when the marriage was consummated: Ghazali, Qadaya al- 
mar'a, 77. 

75. Ali al-Tantawi, Dhikraydt, 4:290-92, 296; idem, Fatawa, 122-23. 

76. Muh.ammad Abu Zahra, Fatdwd, 447-50; Sunan al-Nasd'i: kitab nikdh, bab 
tazawwuj al-mar'a mithlihdfi al-sinn; Abu al-Hasan al-Sindi, Hdshiya 'aid Sunan al- 

318 | NOTES 

Nasd'i, 2:29. Abu Zahra's argument about the harm of legally ignoring Shariah-valid 
marriages, which would effectively result in undocumented marriages, had been used 
in 1924 by the former Mufti of Egypt, Muhammad Bakhit al-Muti'i, in his objectionsko 
the 1923 law restricting marriage age; al-MutiX "Tahdidsinn al-zawaj," al-Muhamdt 4, 
no. 4 (1924)-. 410-11. 

77. Justin McCarthy, The Ottoman Turks, 387. 

78. Hugh Poulton, Top Hat, Grey Wolf and Crescent, 190-91, 206. 

79. MahmoudEl-Gama!, Islamic Finance, 141-42. 

80. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor writing, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern 
Pennsylvania v. Casey U.S. 833 (1991), vol. 505, p. 864-65. 


1 . Robin Wright, 'Scholar Emerges As The Martin Luther Of Islam - His Interpretation: 
Freedom Of Thought, Democracy Essential,' Seattle Times February 12, 1995, http:/ / 
ramadan_2/. It should be noted that early Islamic modernists like Sir Sayyid Ahmad 
Khan and Jamal al-DIn al- Afghani also called for a Muslim Martin Luther; Michaelle 
Browers and Charles Kurzman, An Islamic Reformation?, 4-6. 

2. 'The Online Ummah,' The Economist August 18, 2012. 

3. Hermann von Kerssenbrock, Narrative of the Anabaptist Madness, 2:576-80, also 
534, 546-47. On the other hand, a law interpreted from the New Testament made even 
sexual desire for a non-spouse punishable by death in Munster; Lyndal Roper, 'Sexual 
Utopianism in the German Reformation,' 407. 

4. Earl Morse Wilbur, A History ofUnitarianism, 345-47. 

5. Samuel Fisher, 'Rusticus ad Academicos (The Rustic's Alarm to the Rabbis)/ 33. 
See also Travis L. Frampton, Spinoza and the Rise of Historical Criticism of the Bible, 

6. Thomas More, Responsio adhuiherum, 153. 

7. This quote comes from Sylvester Prierias' rebuttal of Luther; David Bagchi, Luther's 
Earliest Opponents, 34; Richard Popkin, History of Skepticism, 68. 

8. Bagchi, Luther's Earliest Opponents, 34-45. 

9. Judah Halevi, The Kuzari, 161-62, 168. 

10. Plato, Phaedrus, 96-98 (lines 275-76). 

11. 'The First Apology of Justin, the Martyr,' trans. Edward Rochie Hardy, Early 
Christian Fathers, 263,266. 

12. Eusebius, History of the Church, 102 (3.39.2) 

13. Saadia Gaon explained that the rabbis set down the Mishna because they feared 
the consequences of the cessation of prophecy and diaspora; Samuel Poznanski, The 
Literary Opponents ofSaadiah Gaon, 41. 

14. Robert M. Grant, 'Historical Criticism in the Ancient Church,' 188-89. 

1 5. Irenaeus, 'Refutation and Overthrow of the Knowledge Falsely So Called,' Early 
Christian Fathers; 360, 370-71, 382. 

16. John R. McKae, Seeing Through Zen, 2-4. 

17. Martin S. Jaffee, Torah in the Mouth, 126, 142. 

NOTES | 319 

18. The term for one who relied on written pages was sahafi. This is attributed to 
Sulayman bin Musa; Abu Zur'a al-Dimashqi, Tdrikh AbiZur'a al-Dimashqi 133 

19. AI-Ahdal, al-Nafas al-Yamdni, 63. 

20. Ibn 'Uthaymin, Kitab al- Tim, 1 50, 240-41 ; al- Awda, Dawabit U'l-dirasat al-fiqhiyya, 

21. Al-SuhrawardI, Awdrif al-ma'drif 105. 

22. Al-Ash'ari, al-Ibdna, 138. 

23. Al-Musawi, al-Murdja'dt, 82, 88. 

24. Al-Qummi, Tafsir al-Qummi, 2: 13, 429. 

25. Ayatollah Khomeini, Hadith-i veldyat, 1:130. 

26. Heinz Halm, Empire of the Mahdi: The Rise of the Fatimids, 17-18. 

27. Halm, Empire of the Mahdi, 127, 242-43, 373. 

28. Halm, Empire of the Mahdi, 195, 248-61, 383. 

29. The scholar recounting this story is Muhammad bin All Rizam al-Kufi; Muhammad 
Tahir Ibn 'Ashur, Maqdldt, 42. 

30. Halm, Empire of 'the Mahdi, 204. 

31. Lapidus, History of Islamic Societies, 164, 173-74. 

32. Al-Kashani, Tafsir al-sdfi, 1:34. 

33. St. Augustine, 'Letters of St. Augustine,' in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, trans. 
J. G. Cunningham, 1:612 (Letter 36 to Causulanus); idem, The Essential Augustine, 162 
(Letter 54 to Januarius). 

34. Eusebius, History of the Church, 66, 89, 94, 97, 101. 

35. Eusebius, History of the Church, 61, 65-66. 

36. Jonathan Brown, Hadith, 221-39; see specifically, Harald Motzki, 'The Musannaf 
of Abd al-Razzaq al-San'ani as a Source of Authentic Ahdditk of the First Century AH.,' 
8- 1 2; Andreas Gorke, Harald Motzki and Gregor Schoeier, 'First Century Sources for 
the Life of Muhammad? A Debate,' 2-59. 

37. By the sixteenth century, Sunni scholars had all agreed that this Hadith was totally 
sound, even 'transmitted profusely via parallel chains' (mutawdtir). Yet all evidence 
from al-Daraqutni's numerous surviving works suggests that the narration of Suwayd 
was the only one he accepted as admissible at all. The others come via Harith al-A'war 
(a Smite very problematic for Sunni Hadith scholars) from Ali and another via one Sayf 
bin Muhammad, whom al-Daraqutnl discounts as weak; al-Daraqutni, al-Tlal al-ivarula 
fial-ahadith al-nabawiyya, 3:166, 11:193; al-Khatlb, Tarikh Baghdad, 9:230-31; Ibn 
al-Sala'h, Muqaddima, 471; al-Albam, Silsilat al-ahadith al-sahiha, 2:431-32 (#796); 
al-Munawi, Fayd al-qadir, 6:3008. 

38. For Hanafis and Hanbalis, anything above forty days would be considered a case 
of chronic menstrua! bleeding, during which a woman can perform her prayers. For 
Shafi'is and Malikis, the nifds period can last sixty days; al-Buhutl, Rawd al-murbi , 
49-50; al-Quduri, The Mukhtasar, 22; al-Khattabi, Ma'dlim al-sunan, 1 :95; al-Marwazi, 
Ikhtildfal-fuqahd', 194; al-Nawawi, Minhdj, 89. 

39. The main Hadith is transmitted from the Prophet by the sole chain of his wife Umma 
Salama * Mussa -> Abu Sahl Kathir. Mussa, however, is totally unknown other than by 
this Hadith, thus rendering her 'majhuV (unidentified) and automatically invalidating 
her chain;/amf al-Tirmidhi: kitab al-tahdra, bdb mdjaafi kam tamkuthu al-nufasa ; 
Sunan Abi Dawud: kitab al-tahdra, bdb ma jd'afi waqt al-nufasa'; Musnad Ahmad Ibn 
Hanbal: 6:300, 310; al-Dhahabl, al-Mughnifial-du'afd', 2:406. IbnMajah has a version 
of this Hadith via a separate Isndd from Anas bin Malik {Sunan Ibn Mdjah: kitab al- 
tahdra, bdb al-nufasa' kam tajlis) that is very weak due to the presence of a totally 

320 | NOTES 

unreliable narrator, Salam bin Salim. Another narration via Ibn 'Abbas in al-Bayhaqi's 
Sunan suffers from a glaring break in the Isnad, which invalidates it; al-Bayhaqi, Sunan, 
1:504. See overall, al-Bayhaqi, Sunan, 1:503-6; al-Shawkani,.Way/ al awtar, 1:390-91 

40. Jami' al-Tirmidhi: kitab al-zakdt, bdb maja'a fizakdt al-khudrawdt. Abu Hanifa 
seems to have originally required some tax, but his position was eclipsed by that of 
his senior students; Ibn al-Mundhir, al-Ishrdf, 3:31-32; al-Quduri, 96. 

41. Peters, Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law, 124. 

42. Nihan Altmbas, 'Honor-related Violence in the Context of Patriarchy,' 1-19. 

43. Sahih Muslim: kitab al-li'dn; al-Nawawi, Shark Sahih Muslim, 9/10:375; http://; 
Archivenews/O 1082007.htm. 

44. Al-NabhaniJdmi'karamatal-awliyd', 1:332-33. The couple may have been tortured 
into their confession; Najm al-Din al-Ghazzi, al-Kawdkib al-sd'ira, 1:295. 

45. Ibn Qudama, Mughni, 9:359; al-Bayhaqi, Sunan, 8:69. 

46. Ibn al-Mundhir, Ishrdf, 7:351 ; Ibn Rushd, Distinguished Jurist's Primer, 2:485-86; 
al-QurtubI,/amf, 1:639. 

47. Yan Thomas, 'Vitae Necisque Potestas: Le Pere, La Cite, La More,' 507. 

48. Richard Sailer, Patriarchy, Property and Death in the Roman Family, 115-17; Yan 
Thomas, 'Vitae Necisque Potestas,' 499-548, especially 500, 506. If a mother kills her 
child then she is liable; Digest 48, 9, 1. 

49. Al-Nawawi, al-Minhdj, 337. 

50. In the Hanafi school a relied-upon opinion was that, if one brother killed his father 
and another brother killed the mother, only one of the killers could be executed as 
punishment but both would have to pay compensation, presumably to the one brother 
who survived; Shaykh Nizam, al-Fatdwd al-Hindiyya, 6:5. 

51. The scholar in question was Fakhr al-Islam al-Shashi (d. 1114); Abu Bakr Ibn al- 
'Arabi, Ahkam al-Qur'dn, 1:94-95. 

52. Sahih al-Bukhdri: kitab al-jihdd wa'l-siyar, bdb la yuadhdhabu bi-'adhdb Allah; 
Sahih al-Bukhdri, kitab al-diydt, bab qawl Allah ta'dld al-nafs bi'l-nafs; Sahih Muslim: 
kitab al-qasama... bab mdyubdhu bihi dam muslim. 

53. Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, 214. 

54. Gomaa, Baydn, 78-82; al-Qaradawi, al-Hurriyya al-diniyya wa'l-ta'addudiyyafi 
nazar al- islam, 20-51. 

55. See Sahih Muslim: kitab al-imdn, bdb baydn anna man mdta 'aid al-kufrfa-huwa 
ft al-ndr...; al-Bayjuri, Hdshiyat 'aid Jawharat al-tawhid, 68. 

56. Juliane Hammer, American Muslim Women, Religious Authority, and Activism, 
16-17, 42. 

57. Gomaa, al-Bayan, 61; 

58. Muhyl al-Din Ibn 'Arabi, al-Futuhdt al-makkiyya, 6:428-29 (paragraphs nos 
592-95); Sa'diyya Shaikh, Sufi Narratives of Intimacy, 91. 1 am grateful to Sa'diyya for 
pointing out this citation. 

59. 'Wa Id ta'ummanna imra'a rajulan wa la a'rdbi muhdjiran wa Idfdjir mu'minan'; 
Ibn Hajar al- AsqalanT calls its Isnad 'feeble' (wdh) and al-Bayhaqi and al-Albani note 
that all its narrations are weak; Ibn Hajar, Bulugh al-maram, 173; al-Bayhaqi, Sunan, 
3:128; al-Albani, Da'if Sunan Ibn Mdjah, 84. See al-Bayhaqi, Sunan, 3:127-28; Ibn 
Qudama, Mughni, 2:33; al-Buhutl, Rawd al-murbi', 100. 

60. Ibn 'Arab!, al-Futuhdt al-makkiyya, 6:428-29 (paragraphs 592-95). 

61. Behnam Sadeghi, The Logic of Law Makingin Islam, 58, 75. Ibn Hajar concluded 
that no evidence of note existed for this being a prophetic Hadith. It was only a 

NOTES | 321 

Companion opinion; Ibn Hajar, al-Dirdya takhrij ahadith al-Hiddya, 1 : 171; Ibn Rushd 
Distinguished Jurists Primer, 1:161; al-Khattabl, 1 : 174. 

62. Ibn Qudama, Mughni, 2:22-29, 46. In theory, men in the congregation who did not 
believe their prayers would be accepted if they followed a female imam could simply 
make the intention of praying alone. Then there would only remain the question of 
whether their prayer was valid with a woman between them and the qibla, which even 
the late Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abd al-'AzIz Bin Baz, said posed no problem; Abd al- 
'Aziz Bin Baz and Ibn 'Uthaymin, Fatdwd al- 'ulamd' li'l-nisa, 29. The Lucknow jurist 
Abd al-Hayy al-Farangi Mahalli noted that it had become common in his time for boys 
who had memorized the Qur'an to lead their older relatives in prayer, but he opposed 
this based on the standard Hanafi position; 'Abd al-Hayy al-Laknawi, Majmu'atrasd'il 
'Abd al-Hayy al-Laknawi, 4: 121-22. 

63. Ahmad al-Ghumari, 'al-Iqna' bi-sihhat salat al-jum'a fi al-manzilkhalf al-midhya',' 
in Silsilat al-sdda al-Ghumdriyya, 23-28; al-Nawawi, Minhdj, 122. 

64. Muhammad Khidr Husayn, al-Sa'dda al-'uzma, 163-64. This is the preferred 
Hanafi opinion and would only apply to a woman's voice during prayer; Ibn 'Abidin, 
Hashiya, 1:406; 6:369. 

65. Gomaa, Fatdwd al-nisd', 486. 

66. Al-Ba'li, Kashf al-mukhaddardt, 1 : 172. Ibn al-Jawzi was one of the Hanbalis who 
held this position; Ibn al-Jawzi, Ahkam al-nisd', 23. 

67. Asmall number of scholars allowed up to three dissenting opinions; Ibn alNadlm, 
IheFihrist, 520; Shihab al-Din al-Ramli, Ghdyat al-ma'mulfi sharh Waraqdt ul-usul, 
281-82; Gomaa, al-Ijma"ind al-usuliyyin, 19. 

68. Al-Zarkashi, al-Bahr al-muhit, 3:574-77, al-Juwayni, al-Burhan, 1:456. 

69.; Hammer, 83. 

70. Ibn Qudama, Mughni, 2:33. For the Hadith, see Sunan AbiDawud: kitab al-saldt, 
bdb imdmat al-nisd'. 

71. Ibn Hajar, Bulugh al-mardm, 176; al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, 1:203; al-Bayhaqi, 
Sunan, 3:186-87; al-Albani, Silsilat al-ahddith al-sahiha, 6, 1:548; idem, Sahih Sunan 
AbiDawud, 3:141-43. Al-Hakim remarks that this is a 'strange sunna' but does not 
dispute the reliability of the Hadith. Two fifteenth-century Hanafi scholars, al-Zayla'I 
and Badr al-Din al-'Ayni refute criticism of the Hadith's transmitters leveled by Ibn 
al-Jawzi and Ibn al-Qattan; al-'Ayni, Sharh Sunan Abi Dawud, 3:93-95; al-Zayla'i, 
Nasb al-rdya takhrij ahadith al-Hiddya, 2:31. Ibn al-Mulaqqin and Ibn Hajar remark 
elsewhere that one of the transmitters in the Isnad, 'Abd al-Rahman bin Khallad, is 
not well identified, though other versions of the non-gender-specific version do not 
rely on him. Ibn Hajar also notes that the report about Umm Waraqa, with no gender 
specification for the congregation, also appears without the Prophet's Involvement : in 
theAf«i«fliofal-ffirithbinAbIUsama; Ibn al-Mulaqqin, al-Badr al-mumr, 4:389-93; 

Ibn Hajar, Talkhis al-habir, 2:57. . 

72. Sunan AbiDawud: kitab al-saldt, bdb imdmat al-nisd'; Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbai: 
6:405; al-Daraqutni, Sunan, 1:279, 403. The question of why al-Daraqutm included 
this minority version of the Hadith of Umm Waraqa in his Sunan is answered by tne 
book's purpose. At best, it was a storehouse of legally interesting and useful Hadiths tor 
followers of the Shafi'i school, not a collection following any standard of soundness. At 
worst, as the Syrian Hadith scholar 'Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda argued, the book was 
actually a collection of flawed and weak Hadiths misnamed as a Sunan; see Abu Ghudaa, 
al-Ta'rifbi-hal Sunan at-Ddraqutni(Diiiaascus: Maktab al-Matbu'at al-Islamiyya, 1992). 

73. Jonathan Brown, 'Critical Rigor Vs. Juridical Pragmatism,' 22-32; Ibn Qudama, 
Mughni, 2:33; see al-Qaradawi's fatwa ahove. Other ulama have tried to defuse the 

322 | NOTES 

Hadith of Umm Waraqa by claiming that she was only permitted to lead her household 
in optional prayers, such as the nightly prayers held in Ramadan. But the versions of 
the Hadith in al-Hakim's Mustadrak and al-Bayhaqf s Sunan specify that she led tAem 
in required prayers. In addition, Ibn Qudama, though an opponent of woman-led 
prayer, objects that nothing in any version of this Hadith suggests the Prophet intended 
only optional prayers. Moreover, a muezzin only performs the call to prayer for the 
obligatory five daily prayers; Ibn Qudama, Mughni, 2:33. 

74. A\--Khmb,Tarikh Baghdad, 5:360; 11:210. 

75. Al-Subki, Tabaqat al-fuqaha' al-shafi'iyya, 3:31 1. 

76. Gayatri Spivak, 'Can the Subaltern Speak?', in Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial 
Theory, 93. 

77. Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam, 128-30; Katherine Bullock, "The Gaze 
and Colonial Plans for the Unveiling of Muslim Women,' 9. 

78. Rudolph Peters, 'What Does it Mean to be an Official Madhhab?: Hanafism and 
the Ottoman Empire,' in The Islamic School of Law, ed. Peri Bearman, et a!., 153. 

79. Ibn al-Hajj, al-Madkhal, 2: 12. 

80. Al-Tahawl, Sharh mushkil al-athar, 13:57. Ibn Kathir approves of the report; Ibn 
Kathir, Tafsir, ed. Mustafa al-Sayyid Muhammad, et al. (Giza: Mu'assasat Qurtuba, 
2000), 3:403. 

81. Ibn Hisham, al-Sira al-nabawiyya, 2:73; 3:44; al-Dhahabi, Siyar, 2:297. 

82. Ibn Abi al- Wafa', al- Jawdhir al-mudiyya, 4: 1 20. 

83. Al-Nabhani, Jdmi' karamat al-awliya', 2:359, citing al-Munawi, al-Kawakib al- 
durriyya, 3:48. There is an interesting disparity between al-Nabhani's version of al- 
Munawi's text and the published edition. The editor of al-Munawi has the text saying 
'she preached to women (nisdy and al-Nabhanl has it 'she preached to the people 
(nds). I think the former reading may reflect a corruption, since the text following 
that clause in al-Munawi's workreads 'fa-yathbutu li-wa'zihd way[u]qta'u man asd'a', 
which I understand as 'so one [male or general] became firm due to her preaching, 
and whoever [male, general] acted badly was cut off.' This is odd, difficult language, 
but it makes even less sense if it follows the mention of a female-only audience. Also, 
it is unlikely that the area around the pulpit (minbar) of the mosque would be set aside 
for women only; cf. Ibn Kathir, al-Biddya wa'l-Nihdya, 14:72; Ibn Hajar, al-Durar al- 
kdmina, 3:226. 

84. Ghulam Ahmad Parwez, Islam: A Challenge to Religion, 31, 139-40, 341 ff. 

85. Shoaib A. Ghias, 'Defining Shari'a: The Politics of Islamic Judicial Review in 
Pakistan,' chapter four. I thank the author for sharing his forthcoming work with me. 
See also Ali Qasmi, Questioning the Authority of the Past, 253-58. 

86. Fazlur Rahman, Islamic Methodology in History, 40. 

87. Rahman, Islam and Modernity, 18-19. 

88. NasrHzimdAbuZay^Naqdal-khitdbal-dini, 193, 202; idem, Critique du discours 
religieux, 186-89; idem, Reformation of Islamic Thought, 94, 99. 

89. Edip Yuksel, Layth Saleh al-Shaiban and Martha Schulte-Nafeh, The Quran: A 
Reformist Translation, 7,10-11. 

90. Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, 105-108, 111. 

91. Parwez, Islam, 137, 342-45. 

92. Rahman, Islamic Methodology in History, 44, 70. 

93. Al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-manthur ft al-tafsir bi'l-ma'thur, 5:196. 

94. This is a paraphrase of the Hadith: al-jirdn thaldtha: jar lahu haqq wa huwa al- 
mushrik lahu haqq al-jiwdr, wajdr lahu haqqdni wa huwa al-muslim lahu haqq aljiwar 

NOTES | 323 

wahaqq al-isldm, wa jar lahu thalathat huqiiqjdr muslim lahu rahim lahu al-isldm wa al- 
rahim wa al-jiwdr. There is agreement on the weakness ( da'if) of this Hadith. Al-'Aj luni 
cites it from the Musnad of al-Bazzar and the Thawab al-a'mdl of Abu al-Shaykh; al- 
'A)\wii,Kashfal-khafa, 1:393; al-Albani, Silsilat al-ahddith al-da'ifa,l :488-90 (no. 3493). 

95. Misr Tantakhib 12/ 16/ 1 1 on CBC, http: // 
(last accessed 1/20/2013). 

96. See also Qur'an 3:28, 1 18. See, for example, the show Kifdyat al-dhuniib with 
Shaykh Ayman Sidah on the Rahma Channel (October 20 1 1) and Muhammad Zughbi on 
Min al-Jdntshow on Egypt's Khalijiyya Channel (May 201 1 ); 
watch ?v=5RejZbRaymw; http : / / watch ?v=FhCy-jYGSEU. For more 
examples, see watch ?v=HsswsOii A3o; http : / / 
com/ watch ?v=xeW_AVhrt34; ?v=Zp6G7kV3Gko; 

See also a lesson by Shaykh Khalid Abdallah on the Death of Abu Talib; www.way2allah. 
com/khotab/item-6 174.htm (taped 5/31/2008). 

97. Najm al-DIn Ibn Qudama, Mukhtasar Minhdj al-qdsidtn, 108. 

98. haqq al-jdr in marad 'udtahu wa in matshayya'tahu wa in istaqradaka aqradtahu wa 
in a'waza satartahu wa in asabahu khayr hanna'tahu wa in asabathu musiba 'azzaytahu 
wa Id tarfa' binaakafawqa bind'ihi fa-tasuddu 'alayhi al-rih wa Id tudhihi bi-rih qidrika 
ilia an taghrifa lahu minhd; this Hadith is considered weak by many scholars, but Ibn 
Hajar al-Asqalani states that it has a basis (asl) from the Prophet; al-Zabldi, Ithdfal- 
sdda al-muttaqin, 6:308-309. 

99. Ibn Hajar, Path al-Bdrt, 10:541-42; al-San'ani, Subul al-salam, 4:217-18. 

100. Auguste Comtek General View of Positivism, 229, 429; Gesinke, Islamic Reform 
and Conservatism, 167. 

101. YasirBurhami, Fadl al-ghani al-hamid, 136; Raghib al-Sirjani, Fann al-Ta'amul 
al-nabawtma'a ghayr al-muslimin, 1 57. This latter report about the Christian prayer is 
cited from Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, 271. Although the Christian delegation 
from Najran did not embrace Islam, they asked Muhammad to send one of his trusted 
Companions back with them to act as an arbitrator in their internal disputes. 

102. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel, 27 1. 

103. Abu Zayd, Critique du discours religieux, 182-84. 

104. Abu Zayd, Naqd al-khitdb al-dini, 204-205. 

105. Ai-Haqiqa/ September 2011, DreamTV 

106. mnnahAtendt, Between Past and Future, 13-14. 

107. Stanley Fish, There's No Such Thing as Free Speech, andlts a Good Thing, Too, 
135; apud Andrew March, Islam and Liberal Citizenship, 44. 

108. Emily Yoffe, 'Brotherly Love: My twin and I share an earth-shattering secret 

that could devastate our family-should we reveal it?/ S ^™f b ^J*>™ 02/mcestuouj jw n 

brothers_wonder_iLthey_should_reveal_their_secretjelationship_.html (last 
accessed July 2013), also 

109. Sophia Rosenfeld, Common Sense: A Political History. 

110. 'France and Islam: Fighting Fire with Fire/ The Economist 1 1/2/2011 http.y/; Pregnant n 

ice cream advert banned for 'mockery* 9/14/2010, 

111. Muhammad d-Baz, Du'dtfi'l-manfd, 151-67, 181. 

324 | NOTES 

112. For a reference to this, see Ibn 'Uthaymln, al-Sharh al-mumti' 'aid Zad al- 
mustaqni', 1:140. 

113. Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, 4, 7. \ 

114. http: / /www.coptreaLcom/ WShowSubject.aspx?SID =31 695. 

115. Gomaa, Baydn, 57-58. 


1. 'Islamic Finance: Banking on the Ummah,' The Economist, January 5, 2013, http:// 
islamic-finance-banking-ummah; 'Islamic finance: Calling the faithful,' Economist, 
December 7, 2006, (last accessed August 

2. Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Muntazam, 17:4. Rates in the Ottoman Empire ran from 10 to 20 
percent; Suraiya Farooqbi etal.,AnEconomicandSocialHistory ofthe OttomanEmpire 
II: 1600^1914,492. 

3. M. Afifi al-Akiti, 'Riba & Investing in Shares,' 

4. Ahmad al-Ghumarl considers this supposed link in the Isnad highly improbable. 
Al-Shibli died in Baghdad in 946, at which time al-Makki was still in Basra (he was 
still in Mecca as of 940, in fact). Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi's description of al-Makld's very 
limited scholarly activity and subsequent ostracism in Baghdad suggests that he did 
not visit the city until shortly before his death there in 996 CE . Al-Makki mentions the 
next link in the Isnad, al-Junayd, as well as his main link to al-Junayd, Abu Sa'id Ibn al- 
A'rabl, many times in his Qut al-qulub but never once mentions al-Shibli; al- Ghumari, 
al-Burhdn al-Jali, 44-45; al-Makki, Qut, 1:165. 

5. The saying cited by Al-Attas is al-nds niydm fa-idhd mdtu intabahu. See Abu Hamid 
al-Ghazali, Ihyd' 'ulum al-din, 4:2469-71. Taj al-Din al-Subkl, Zayn al-DIn al-'Iraqf and 
al-Albanl all say this saying has no basis whatsoever as a prophetic Hadith; al-Albam, 
Silsilat al-ahddith al-da'ifa, 1 :219. For a discussion of the Hadith on Riba as Incest, see 
Appendix III. 

6. Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1011b (Book Four). 

7. Nietzsche, Philosophy and Truth, 81, 96. 

8. Donald Davidson, A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge,' in ReadingRorty, 
ed. Alan Malachowski, 123. 

9. William James, "Ihe Meaning of Truth,' in Pragmatism and Other Essays, 133 ff. 

10. Petrarch, The Secret, 83. 

1 1 . John W. S chroeder, Skillful Means: The Heart of Buddhist Compassion, 1 5; Michael 
Pye, Skilful Means: A Concept in Mahayana Buddhism, 37-38; The Lotus Sutra, 65 ff. 

12. Ibn Rushd, Averroes Commentary on Plato's Republic, 129. Cf. Charles Butterworth, 
'Philosophy, Ethics and Virtuous Rule: A Study of Averroes' Commentary on Plato's 
"Republic,"' Cairo Papers in Social Science 9, no. 1 (1986). 

13. Ibn Rushd, The Book of the Decisive Treatise, 20 1 . 

14. Al-Sakhawi, al-Maqasid al-hasana, 102-103. 

15. Sahih al-Bukhdri: kitdb al-'ilm, bob man khassa bi'l-'ilm qawman dun qawm 
kardhiyyatan an layafhamu; Sahih Muslim: kitdb al-iman, bdb man laqiya Allah bi'l- 
iman; Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bdri, 1:300. 

16. Al-Sha'rani, Tabaqdt al-kubrd, 235. 

NOTES j 325 

17. Jdmi al-Tirmidhi: kitdb al-birr wa'l-sila, bob mdjd'a ft islah dhdt al-bayn. 

1 8. Ibn Abi al-Dunya, Kitdb al-samt wa dddb al-lisdn, 511-12. 

19. Abu Talib al-Makki, Qut al-qulub, 1 : 177-78. 

20. Muhammad bin Alt bin Wad'an, al-Arba'un al-wad'dniyya al-mawdu'a, 47 

21. Al-DhahabI, Mizdn al-i'tiddl, 1:141. 

22. Al-Haytami, al-Fatdwd al-hadithiyya, 391. 

23. Brown, 'Did the Prophet Say it or Not?', 280. 

24. Ahmad al-Ghumarl, al-Bahr al- 'amiq, 1 :227-28, 290. The two scholars in question 
were Ahmad Rafi' al-TahtawI and Fathallah al-Bannani. 

25. Nelly Hanna, In Praise of Books, 95. 

26. Muhammad bin Sulayman al-Jazuli, Guide to Goodness, 12. My evaluation ofthe 
Hadiths in this chapter of the Guide is taken from al-Sakhawi stating that a Hadith is 
undisputedly forged or lacks any basis whatsoever; al-Sakhawi, al-Qawlal-badi', 109 ff. 

27. Muhammad Ziyad al-Tukla, ed., Majmu'fi kashf haqiqat al-juz' al-mafqud al- 
maz'um min MusannafAbd al-Razzdq, 69 ff. One famous late medieval scholar who 
cited this Hadith was Ibn Hajar Haytami, Fatdwd, 85, 380. 

28. Montagu, Letters, 300 (Florence, 1740). 

29. Vico, On the Study Methods of Our Time, 38, 43-45. 

30. The Hadith via Jabir: 'Man balaghahu 'an Allah shay' fihi fadl fa-'amila bihi 
[imdnan bihi wa] rajd'an dhdlik al-fadl a'tdhu Allah dhdlik wa in lam yakun dhalik 
kadhdlik'; al-Khatib, Tdrikh Baghdad, 8:293; Ibn Abd al-Barr,./a;nf bayan al-'ilm, 
1:22; al-Daylami, Firdaws al-akhbdr, 3:559-60. The Hadith is considered weak, forged 
or baseless by scholars from Ibn al-Jawzi and Ibn H a jar to al-Albam. See Ibn al-Jawzi, 
Kitdb al-Mawdu at, 1:258, 3:153; al-Sakhawi, al-Maqasid al-hasana, 348, 411; Mulla 
All al-Qari', al-Asrdr al-marfu'a, 282, 322-24; al-Albani, Silsilat al-ahddith al-da'ifa, 
1 :647 ff. Ibn Taymiyya cited the Hadith, however, in his fatwas without noting any flaw, 
and his student Ibn Mufiih rated it hasan. Ibn Nasir al-Din also defends its authenticity; 
Ibn Nasir al-Din al-Dimashqi, al-Tarjih li-hadith saldt al-tasbth, 31 ff.; Ibn Taymiyya, 
Majmu'at al-fatdwd, 18:46; Ibn Mufiih, al-Addb al-shar'iyya, 2:278-79. Ahmad al- 
Ghumari points out that this Hadith is often confused with another weak Hadith that 
seems similar on its face but whose meaning is actually profoundly different, that of 
Anas from the Prophet: 'If some virtue reaches someone from God and he does not 
believe it, he will not attain it'; al-Suyuti, al-Jdmi' al-saghir, 520; al-Ghumarl, al-Muddwi, 

31. Al-Sakhawi, al-Maqasid al-hasana, 411. 

32. Erasmus, Opera Omnia, 6:2:96; idem, Erasmus Annotations on the New 
Testament, 735; Eusebius, History, 202; Bentley, Humanists and Holy Writ, 147. 

33. Livy, The Early History of Rome, 34; SaWust, Jugurthine War, 36-37. 

34. Aristotle, Poetics, 60-6 1 ; Cicero, Be Oratore, 62-65; Polybius, Histories,hl4, VII; 25a; 
Jean Bodin, 'Method for the Easy Comprehension of History,' 70. 

35. Leopold Von Ranke, The Secret of World History, 58 (from von Ranke's introduction 
to his History ofthe Latin and Teutonic Nations). 

36. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 14; Costas M. Proussi, "Ihe Orator: 
Isocrates,' 68; Cicero, Brutus, 47. 

37. Tacitus, Annates, 6:28. 

38. Plutarch, Lives I, 'Solon,' xxvii.l. 

39. C. B. R. Pelling, 'Truth and Fiction in Plutarch's Lives', 32, 36. For the opposing 
view, see Arnaldo Momigliano, 'Greek Historiography,' History and Theory 17, no. 1 
(1978): 1-28, and Christopher Gill, 'Plato on Falsehood - not Fiction,' in Lies and 

326 | NOTES 

Fiction in the Ancient World, ed. Christopher Gill and T. P. Wiseman (Austin : University 
of Texas Press, 1993), 38-87. For an excellent discussion that concurs with Pelling, 
see J. L. Moles, 'Truth and Untruth in Herodotus and Thucydides,' in Lies and Fiction 
in the Ancient World, 88-120. 

40. Alan Spitzer, Historical Truth and Lies about the Past, 4. 

41. David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country, 215. 

42. Paul Veyne, Comment on ecrit I'histoire, 23. 

43. Episode VII: Peacefield. 

44. Kevin Baker, 'You Have to Give a Sense of What People Wanted,' 56; Jane Mayer, 
'Zero Conscience in "Zero Dark Thirty,"' New Yorker December 14, 2002, http: / /www. 

45. Aziz Al-Azmeh, 'Rhetoric for the Senses,' 215-31. 

46. Gibbon, Decline and Fall, 3:92; Montesquieu, Persian Letters, 247 ff.; Jeffery, 
'Ghevcnd's Text of the Correspondence between 'Umar II and Leo III, 3 329; Voltaire, 
Essai sur les moeurs, 1 : 270 ; Maulana Abdullah Nana, The Maidens of Jannat, 1 6. 

47. Pindar, Pindar's Victory Songs, 159; Odyssey, 24:90-110 (Fagles trans., p. 471). 

48. Plato, Symposium, 208c-208e. The eleventh-century philosopher Ibn Miskawayh 
objects to the hedonism and desire for pleasure behind the masses' longing to enter 
Heaven; Ibn Miskawayh, Tahdhib al-akhlaq, 42-43. 

49. Al-Suyuti, Abwab al-sa'dda fi asbdb al-shahdda; Abu Bakr al-Ajurri, Sifat al- 
ghurabamin al-mu'minin, 20, 66-68. 

50. Abdallah bin Abd al-Rahman al-Darimi, Sunan, 2:431; Al-Azmeh, 'Rhetoric for 
the Senses,' 227. 

51. Jdmi' al-Tirmidhi; kitdb sifat al-janna, bab ma li-adnd ahl al-janna; Sahih Muslim: 
kitdb al-janna wa sifat na'imiha, bab awwal zumra tadkhulu al-janna 'aid surat al- 
qamar; Sahih al-Bukhdri: kitdb bad' al-khalq, bab majd'a fi sifat al-janna wa annahd 

52. Al-Tabarani, al-Mu'jam al-kabir, 23:367-68. This Hadith is considered very weak; 
al-Mundhiri, al-Targhib wa'l-tarhib, 3:1377 (no. 2230). 

53. A. J. Arberry, Reason and Revelation in Islam, 53. 

54. Al-Ghazall, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, 216-17. Ibn Sina had no 
compunction about drinking wine himself, as evidenced in his autobiography, but 
advocated upholding the Shariah punishments for such crimes in his Kitdb al-Shifd'; 
William Gohlman, The Life of Ibn Sina, 29; Ibn Sim, Kitdb al-Shifa', 447-56. See also 
Peter Heath, Allegory and Philosophy inAvicenna, 121-22. 

55. Lady Montagu, Letters, 108-109. 

56. Al-Ghazall, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, 1,212, 218- 19. 

57. Ibn Taymiyya, Majmuat al-Fatdwd, 1 3 : 1 32 ff . 

58. Al-Ghazall, Ihyd' 'ulum al-din, 4:2469-71. 

59. Sahih Muslim: kitdb al-janna wa sifat na'imiha, bab awwalzumra tadkhulu al-janna 
'aid surat al-qamar. 

60. Al-Nawawi, Shark Sahih Muslim, 17/18:178; al-Qadi 'Iyad, Ikmdl al-mu'lim bi- 
fawa id Muslim, 8: 366. The Hadith of the Poor in Heaven comes from the Prophet via 
'Imran bin Husayn; Sahih al-Bukhdri: kitab bad' al-khalq, bab 8; Sahih Muslim: kitdb 
al-riqaq, bab 1. 

61. Ibn Hajar, Path al-Bdri, 6:400-401. Some scholars offered different explanations. 
Ibn Taymiyya's most influential disciple, Ibn Qayyim, suggested that the multiple 
partners enjoyed by men in Heaven are mostly huris as opposed to earthly women now 

NOTES | 327 

in Paradise; Ibn al-Qayyim, Hddi al-arwdh, quoted in Muhammad Bakhit al-Hujayli 
Ajwibatlbn al-Qayyim 'an al-ahddith allati zdhiruha al-ta'drud, 1:488; al-Munawi' 
Fayd al-qadir, 5:237 5. '' 

62. The Hadith is found in Sahih al-Bukhari: kitab bad' al-khalq, bab ma jd'aft sifat 
al-janna wa annahd makhluqa. For Ibn Abbas' statement, see al-Tabari, Jdmi' al- 
baydn, 1:172; al-Bayhaqi, Kitdb al-Ba'th wa'l-nushur, 210; Ibn Taymiyya, zl-Fatwa 
al-Hamawiyya, 107. 

63. Abu al-Qasim al-Suhayli, al-Rawd al-unuf 4:127-28. See also, Ibn Taymiyya, 
al-Fatwa al-Hamawiyya, 51-52. 

64. David Nyberg, The Varnished Truth, 1-2. 

65. Augustine, 'Lying,' 67-70. 

66. Immanuel Kant, On a Supposed Right to Lie because of Philanthropic Concerns, 
published with Groundingfor the Metaphysics of Morals, 64-65 (paragraphs 426-27). 

67. Kant, 'What is Enlightenment,' in On History, 3, 9. 

68. John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism,274-7S. 

69. Plutarch, Lives I, 'Solon,' xxix.5. ■. 

70. Lucian of Samosata, 'How to Write History,' in Lucian: a Selection, 21 1; Francis 
Bacon, 'Of Truth,' in Francis Bacon, 103; Augustine, 'Lying,' 78; Kant, On a Supposed 
Right to Lie, 64-65. 

7 1 . Ibn Jubayr, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, 230- 3 1 ; Ibn al-Jawzi, Kitdb al-qussas wa'T 
mudhakkirin, 147. 

72. Jonathan Brown, 'Even If It's Not True It's True: Using Unreliable Hadiths in 
Sunni Islam,' 18- 

73. Brown, 'Even If It's Not True It's True,' 23. 

74. Ibn al-Jawzi, Kitdb al-Mawduat, 2:244-47. 

75. Brown, 'Even If It's Not True It's True,' 20-22. 

76. Brown, 'Even If It's Not True It's True,' 35-46. 

77. Anthony Collins, ADiscourse on Free Thinking,' 99; Kant, 'What is Enlightenment,' 
in On History, 3-4. 

78. Dr. Isma'il al-Daftar, in personal discussion with author, July 20 10. For this Hadith, 
see Ibn Qayyim, al-Manar al-munif 50-51; al-Suyuti, al-La'dli al-masnu'a, 2:291. 

79. Muhammad al-Ghazali, al-Sunna Nabawiyya, 35-36. 

80 Sahih Muslim: kitdb al-riqaq, bab akthar ahl al-janna al-fuqard' wa akthar ahl 
al-ndr al-nisa; Jdmi' al-Tirmidhi: kitdb al-adab, bab tahdhir fitnat al-nisd'; Sunan 
IbnMdjah: kitdb al-fitan, bab fitnat al-nisd'; Sahih al-Bukhdri: kitdb al-manaqib, bab 
'aldmdt al-nubuwwa fi'l-isldm; Sahih Muslim : kitd b alfitan, bab 1 8. 

8 1 . Zaid Shakir, in discussion with author at Critical Islamic Reflections conference, 
Yale University, April, 2003. 

82. These originally appeared in the newspaper^* al-Maghrib. Al-Battar echoed 
criticisms of earlier Islamic modernists like Abu Rayya such as the scientific problems 
of the Hadith of the Fly, religious objections over Hadiths describing the Prophe 
being bewitched (al-Battar and other reformists object that he was infallible) as well 
as a Hadith affirming the biblical story of David and Bathsheba, which similarly casts 
a prophet in an imperfect light. See al-Battar, Fi naqd al-Bukhdri kana baynahu wa 
bayn al-haqq hijab. 

83. For example, of the transmitters that Bukhari uses in his Sahih but who are 
criticized by notable Hadith scholars (382 are listed by Ibn Hajar in his introduction 
to the Path al-Bdn), 19 percent of them only appear in the chapters dealing with the 
non-core issues, such as the chapters on Maghdzi, Tafsir, Da'wdt, Adab, Sifat al-Nabi, 

328 | NOTES 

Riqaq, al-Anbiyd', Fitan or the various fada'ti. chapters (a small number also appeared 
in supporting narrations in other chapters, but I ignored this because supporting 
narrations typically include less impressive transmitters than the primary ones). But^ 
these twelve chapters only make up 12 percent of Sahih al-BukhdrVs ninety-seven 
chapters, and the Tafsir chapter is one of the book's largest. The remaining 81 percent 
of the impugned transmitters are distributed across the other 88 percent of the book's 
chapters - not surprising or statistically significant. 

84. Muhammad Sa'Id Ramadan al-Buti, personal communication, Abu Dhabi, 

85. Derek D. Rucker and David Dubois, 'The Failure to Transmit Certainty: Causes, 
Consequences, and Remedies,' Advances in Consumer Research, 36 (2009): 69-70. 

86. 'mu'jiza tammat bi-tashil rabbdni'; http: / / 
aspx ?cdate = 1 60420 1 2&id= f 1 1 83b 1 2-b343-48ed-b949 -58 a825afbed6 (last accessed 


88. Erich Auerbach, Mimesis, 11-12. 

89. Kevseri, Maqdldt, 46. 

90. The critic cited here is al-SakhawI; Yasin al-Fadani, al-'Ujdla ft al-ahddith al- 
musalsala, 15. 

91. Al-NabhanI,/amf kardmdt al-awliya', 1:188. 

92. Al-Subki, Tabaqdt al-shdfi'iyya, 8:35-37. 


1. This can be verified in a speech given years later. See 
watch ?v=pKMPVpjYrN4. 

2. Abd al-Hamid Abu Sulayman, Darb al-mar'a wasila li-hall al-khilafat al-zawjiyya, 
19, 25, 36, 65. Laleh Bakhtiar also translates daraba as 'to leave'; Laleh Bakhtiar, trans., 
The Sublime Quran (Chicago:, 2007), 94. 

3. Abu Sulayman, Darb al-mar'a, 82. See the Hadiths describing this, as referenced in 
Qur'an 66:3-5, in Sahih al-Bukhdri: kitdb al-nikdh, bah maw'izatal-ab ibnatahu li-hdl 
zawjihd; Sahih Muslim: kitdb al-taldq, bdbfial-ild' wa i'tizdl al-nisd' . 

4. Abu Sulayman, Darb al-mar'a, 43-44, 62, 70-75. 

5. Amina Wadud, Qur'an and Woman, 76; idem, Inside the Gender Jihad, 191-200. 
See also Nadeem Mohamed, 'Between "Yes" and "No": Amina Wadud and Scriptural 
Imperatives,' 73-87. 

6. Kolawole Azeez Oyediran and Uche Isiugo-Abanihe, 'Perceptions of Nigerian Women 
on Domestic Violence,' 43-47; Kathryn Yount, 'Resources, Family Organization, and 
Domestic Violence against Married Women in Minya, Egypt.' 

7. See Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act IV, Scene 1; Richard Trench, 
Dictionary of Obsolete English (New York: Philosophical Library, 1958), 228; see Warner 
Bros' Confidential Agent (1945). 

8. Here I am drawing on Robert Gleave's excellent book Islam and Literalism, 1-21. 
See Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class?, 14. 

9. For the main body of this report, see Sunan Abi Ddwud: kitdb al-nikdh, bah darb 
al-nisa'; Sunan Ibn Mdjah: kitdb al-nikdh, bdb darb al-nisd'. For the final statement 
about the best men not beating their wives, see the recensions in al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 
2:188, 191. 

NOTES | 329 

10. Sahih Muslim: kitdb al-hajj, bab hajjat al-Nabi; Sunan Abi Ddwud: kitdb al-mandsik 
bab sifat hajjat al-Nabi. The Jdmi' al-Tirmidhi Identifies the crime deserving of beating 
as the wife committing 'a gross [sexual] transgression (fdhisha mubayyina)';Jami' al- 
Tirmidhi: kitdb al-ridd', bab mdjd'afihaqq al-mar'a 'aid zawjihd; idem, kitdb al-tafsir, 
bdb tafsir surat al-tawba. 

11. Sahih al-Bukhdri: kitdb al-nikdh, bdb md yukrahu min darb al-nisd'. 

12. Sahih al-Bukhdri: kitdb al-nikdh, bab 94; kitdb al-adab, bdb 43; Sahih Muslim- 
kitdb al-fadd.% bab mubd' adatihi (s) li'l-dthdm; Sunan Abi Ddwud: kitdb al-adab, bdb ft 
al-'afw wa'l-tajdwuz. One Hadith that Aisha herself transmitted raises questions' about 
her claim. In it, the Prophet gets up from Aisha's bed at night and leaves. Curious and 
'jealous,' she follows him to the graveyard then sneaks back home before he arrives. 
The Prophet confronts her about following him and then tells her that he was praying 
for the dead and teaches her the prayer to say for them. When he confronts her, Aisha 
says that 'he pushed me with his palm on my chest in a way that caused me pain.' This 
appears via two wordings, 'lahadanifi sadrilahdatanawja'atnT (SahihMuslim, Sunan 
al-Nasd'i, via Aisha -» Muhammad bin Qays -» Abdallah bin Kathlr) and 'lahazanifi 
sadri lahzatan awja'atnC (Musnad Ahmad, Sunan al-Nasd'i, via Aisha -> Muhammad 
bin Qays -» Abdallah bin Abi Mulayka). This may well be an orthographic error, but 
both words have been understood the same way: Sahih Muslim: kitdb al-jand'iz, bdb 
mdyuqdlu 'ind dukhul al-qubur wa'l-du'd' li-ahlihi; Musnad Ahmad; 6:221; Sunan al- 
Nasd'i: kitdb al-jand'iz, bdb al-amr bi'l-istighfdr li'l-mu'minin. 

13. This report can be found in the ninth- and tenth-century Tafsirs of 'Abd bin 
Humayd, al-Tabari, Ibn Abi Hatim and others. See Tafsir Muqatil bin Sulayman (Beirut: 
Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 2003), 1 :227 and al-Suyutl, al-Durr al-manthur, 2: 167. 

14. Ibn Hajar, Path al-Bari, 9:378-79. 

15. Abu Bakr Ibn al-'Arabi, Ahkdm al-Qur'dn, 1:499-500. 

16. Al-Jawi, Qutal-habib al-gharib, 211; al-Nawawi, Sharh SahihMuslim, 7/8:434. 

17. 'La yus'alu al-rajulfimd daraba imra'atahu'; see Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal: 1 :20; 
Sunan Abi Ddwud: kitdb al-nikdh, bdb fi darb al-nisa; Sunan Ibn Mdjah: kitdb al-nikdh, 
bdb darb al-nisd '; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 4: 175; al-Bayhaql, Sunan, 7:497; Ibn Hajar al- 
Hsytzml, Fatdwd, 182; al-Munawi, Fayd, 12:6409; 'Abd al-Karlm al-Rafi'I, ^-Tadwinfi 
akhbdr Qazwin, 1 : 1 52. Al-Suyutl considered it hasan, but it is judged weak by al-Albanl 
since it is known only through one transmitter, 'Abd al-Rahman al-Musli, who is, in 
turn, known only from this Hadith. This was noted by al-Bazzar and al-Dhahabl, who 
also alerts us that only one transmitter narrates it from Abd al-Rahman; al-Albanl; 
Silsilat al-ahddith al-da'ifa, 10:1:316 (no. 4776); al-Dhahabi, Mtzdn, 2:602; al-Bazzar, 
Musnad, 1:356. 

18 Khaled Abou El Fadl, Conference of the Books, 171-72, 180-86. Muhammad al- 
Ghazali shares this position; Ghazall, A Thematic Commentary on the Quran, 61. 

19. Abu Bakr Ibn al-'Arabi, Ahkdm al-Qur'dn, 1 :499. 

20. Gomaa, Fatdwd al-nisd', 297-99; Gomaa, personal interview (6/16/2013). 

21. Gomaa, personal communication 6/2012. 

22. Muhammad Tahir ibn Ashur, al-Tahrir wa'l-Tanwir, 5:43-44. 

23. Ibn a\-Yzrzs, Ahkdm al-Qur'dn, 2:179-81. 

24. Ibn al-Jawzi, Ahkdm al-nisa', 80-8 1 ; al-Qurtubl, al-Jdmi li-ahkam al-Qur an, 3: 157. 

25. This application of Qur'an 4:34-35 goes back to the Successor Sa'Id bin al-Jubayr; 
Ibn al-'Arabi, Ahkdm al-Qu'ran, 1:498-99. 

26. Maribel Fierro, 'Ill-Treated Women Seeking Divorce,' 326. See also Manuela 
Marin, 'Disciplining Wives: AHistorical Reading of Qur'an 4:34,' 29-35. Ibn Taymiyya 

330 | NOTES 

addresses this issue in a fatwa as well, citing Quran 4: 19 as a basis for preventing such 
abuse; Ibn Taymiyya, Majmu'at al-fatdwa, 32: 1 89 . 

27. Fierro, 324-33. \ 

28. Elyse Semerdjian, Of the Straight Path, 138-44. 

29. Mathieu Tillier, 'Women before the QadT under the Abbasids,' 284; Ibn Battuta, 
Travels, 2:354-55; Judith Tucker, In the House of the Law, 66; Yvonne Seng, 'Invisible 
Women: Residents of early Sixteenth-Century Istanbul,' 250. 

30. Elke E. Stockreiter, 'Child Marriage and Domestic Violence: Islamic and Colonial 
Discourses on Gender Relations and Female Status in Zanzibar, 1900- 1950s," in Domestic 
Violence and the Law in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa, ed. Emilv S. Burrill, et al., 
138, 143-44. 

3 1 . Emily Burrill and Richard Roberts, 'Domestic Violence, Colonial Courts, and the 
End of Slavery in French Soudan, 1905-12,' in Burrill, et al., 45-46. 

32. Fierro, 336. 

33. The Saudi Ministry of justice, Mudawwanat al-Ahkam al-qadd'iyya, 113-17. A 
similar ruling in the region of Qatif recently made headlines, with a man receiving thirty 
lashes and ten days in prison after he admitted hitting his wife; 'Saudi Arabia: Judge 
Ignores Wife, Sentences Husband to 30 Lashes for Domestic Violence,' International 
Business Times, June 6, 2013, 

34. Shaham, Family and the Courts in Modern Egypt, 132-33. 

35. Anna Wiirth, 'Stalled Reform: Family Law in Post-Unification Yemen,' 22-24. 

36. Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 191. 

37. Eusebius describes his teacher as having taken the verse in 'an absurdly literal 
sense'; Eusebius, History of the Church, 186 (6.8.1). 

38. This statement came from the Egyptian Maliki and diehard opponent of Salafism 
Ahmad bin Muhammad al-Sawi (d. 1825); Ahmad al-Sawi, Hashiyat al-Stiwi 'aid Tafsir 
aljalalayn, 3:9. 

39. Fariba Zarinebaf-Shahr, 'Women in the Public Eye in Eighteenth- Century Istanbul,' 

40. Galileo, 'Letter to Christina of Lorraine,' 85-88; Augustine, De Genesi ad Litteram 
Libri Duodecim, 1:19:38. 

41. Muhammad Qasim Zaman, trans., 'Studying Hadith in a Madrasa in the Early 
Twentieth Century,' 232-33. This is a translated excerpt from Manazir Ahsan Gilani's 
Urdu Ihati-ya Bar al-'Ulum main bite huwa dine. 

Select Bibliography 


Abou El Fadl, Khaled M. Conference of the Books. Lanham: University Press of America, 

Abu Zayd, Nasr Hamid. Critique du Discours religieux. Trans. Mohamed Chairet. Aries, 

France: Sindbad, 1999 

. Mafhum al-nass. Cairo: al-Hay'a al-Misriyya al-'Amma li'l-Kutub, 1990 

. Reformation of Islamic Thought. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006 

Ahmed, Asad Q. 'Logic in the KhayrabadI School of India: A Preliminary Exploration.' 

InLaw and Tradition in Classical Islamic Thought, ed. Michael Cook, et al., 227-46. 

New York; Palgrave, 2013 
Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992 
Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. Infidel. New York: Free Press, 2007 

Altinbas, Nihan. 'Honor-related Violence in the Context of Patriarchy, Multicultural 

Politics and Islamophobia after 9/11.' American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 

30, no. 3 (2013): 1-19 
Altorki, Soraya and Donald P. Cole. Arabian Oasis City: The Transformation of'Unayzah. 

Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1989 
Alvi, Sajida Sultana. Perspectives on Mughal India. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 


Anderson, J. N. D. 'The Syrian Law of Personal Status. 5 Bulletin of the School of Oriental 

and African Studies 17, no. 1 (1955): 34-49 
Anjum, Ovamir. Politics, Law and Community in Islamic Thought. Cambridge: 

Cambridge University Press, 2012 
Ansari, Zafar Ishaq. 'Islamic Juristic Terminology before Shafi'I: A Semantic Analysis 

with Special Reference to Kufa.' Arabica 19, no. 3 (1972): 255-300 
St. Anselm of Bee. Monologion andProslogion. Trans. Thomas Williams. Indianapolis: 

Hackett, 1995 

Arberry, A. J. Reason and Revelation in Islam. London: Allen & Unwin, 1957 
Arendt, Hannah. Between Past and Future. Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1963 ^ 
Aristotle. Poetics. Trans. Stephen Halliwell. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University 
Press, 1999 


Aquil, Raziuddin, ed. Sufism and Society in Medieval India, Delhi: Oxford University 
Press, 2010 

Augustine of Hippo. Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love. Trans. Henry Paolucd. 

Chicago: Gateway Edition, 1961 

. The Essential Augustine. Ed. Vernon J. Bourke. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1985 

. 'Lying (De Mendacio): In The Fathers of the Church 16. Trans. Sister Mary Sarah 

Muldowney. New York: Fathers of the Church, 1952 
Pseudo-Augustine. 'Mirabilis Sacrae Scripturae.' In Operum S. Augustini: Appendix. 

From Documenta Catholica Omnia, vol. MPL035 (available at http://www. 

docume 04z/z_03 54-0430 Augustinus D e_Mirabilis_ 

Sacrae_S cripturae _Libri_Tres MLT.pd f.html) 

Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis. Trans. Willard Trask. New York: Doubleday, 1946 
Ayalon, David. "The Great Yasa of Chingiz Khan: A Reexamination (Part C2).' Studia 

Islamica 38 (1973): 107-56 
Al-Azmeh, Aziz. 'Rhetoric for the Senses: A Consideration of Muslim Paradise 

Narratives.' Journal oj Arabic Literature 26, no. 3 (1995): 215-31 
Bacon, Francis. Francis Bacon. Ed. Arthur Johnston. New York: Schocken Books, 1963 
Bagchi, David. Luther's Earliest Opponents. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991 
Baker, Kevin. 'You Have to Give a Sense of What People Wanted.' American Heritage. 

Nov/Dec (2001): 50-56 
Baljon, J. M. S. Religion and Thought of Shah Walt Allah Dihlawi 1703-1762. Leiden: 

Brill, 1986 

Banks, J. A. and Olive. Feminism and Family Planning in Victorian England. New York: 

Schocken Books, 1977 
Barnes, Timothy D. Constantine and Eusebius. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University 

Press, 1981 

Baron, Beth. 'Making and Breaking Marital Bonds in Modern Egypt. 1 In Women in 

Middle Eastern History, ed. Nikkie Keddie and Beth Baron, 275-91. New Haven: 

Yale University Press, 1991 
Bayle, Pierre. Dictionnaire Historique et Critique. 5th edn, 4 vols. Amsterdam, Leiden, 

Utrecht: [no publisher], 1740 
Bearman, Peri; Peters, Rudolph and Frank Vogel, ed. The Islamic School of Law. 

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005 
Bentley, Jeremy H. Humanists and Holy Writ: New Testament Scholarship in the 

Renaissance. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983 
Bodin, Jean. 'Method for the Easy Comprehension of History.' In Historians at Work 

U, ed. Pe ter Gay and Victor G. Wexler, 62-82. New York: Harper & Row, 1 972 
Bok, Sissela. Lying. 2nd edn. New York: Vintage Books, 1999 
Bowerstock, G. W Fiction as History: Nero to Julian. Berkeley: University of California 

Press, 1994 

Browers,Michaelle and Charles Kurzman. An Islamic Reformation! 1 Lanham: Lexington, 

Brown, Jonathan A. C. 'Critical Rigor Vs. Juridical Pragmatism: How Legal Theorists 

and Hadith Scholars Approached the Backgrowth oilsnads in the Genre of Tlal 

al-Hadith: Islamic Law and Society 14, no. 1 (2007): 1-41 
. 'Did the Prophet Say it or Not?: The Literal, Historical and Effective Truth of 

Hadiths in Sunni Islam.' Journal oj 'the American Oriental Society 129, no. 2 (2009): 


. 'Even If It's Not True It's True: Using Unreliable Hadiths in Sunni Islam.' Islamic 

Law and Society 18, no. 1 (2011): 1-52 


. Hadith: Muhammad's Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World. Oxford- 

Oneworld Publications, 2009 
. 'The Rules of Main Criticism: There Are No Rules.' Islamic Law and Society 19 

no. 4 (2012): 356-96 

Brown, Nathan. The Rule of Law in the Arab World. Cambridge: Cambridge University 
Press, 1997 

Bullock, Katherine H. "The Gaze and Colonial Plans for the Unveiling of Muslim Women ' 

Studies in Contemporary Islam 2, no. 2 (2000): 1-20 
Burak, Guy. "The Second Formation of Islamic Law: The Post-Mongol Context of the 

Ottoman Adoption of a School of Law.' Comparative Studies in Society and History 

55, no. 3 (2013): 579-602 
Burrill, Emily S.; Roberts, Richard L. and Elizabeth Thornberry, ed. Domestic Violence and 

the Law in Colonial and Postcoionial Africa. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010 
De Busbecq, Ogier. Turkish Letters. Trans. E. S. Forster. London: Eland, 2001 
Carlyle, Thomas. Carlyle's Lectures on Heroes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1920 
. The French Revolution. New York: Heritage Press, 1956 

Chadwick, Owen. The Secularization of the European Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge 

University Press, 1975 
Chaudhry, Ayesha S. Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition: Ethics, Law and the 

Muslim Discourse on Gender. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014 
Christelow, Allan. Muslim Law Courts and the French Colonial State in Algeria. Princeton: 

Princeton University Press, 1985 
Cicero, Marcus Tullius. Brutus. Trans. G. L. Hendrickson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard 

University Press, 1952 
. De Oratore I and II. Trans. E. W. Sutton. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University 

Press, 1942 

, The Nature of the Gods (DeNaturaDeorum). Trans. Horace C. P. McGregor. New 

York: Penguin, 1967 

Cressy, David. 'Books as Totems in Seventeenth-Century England and New England.' 

Journal of Library History 21, no. 1 (1986): 92-106 
Comte, Auguste. A General View of Positivism. New York: Robert Speller and Sons, 1957 
Delchaye, Hippolyte. The Work of the Bollandists. Princeton: Princeton University 

Press 1922 

Draper, Jonathan A,ed. The Eye of the Storm: Bishop John William Colenso and the Crisis 
of Biblical Criticism in Victorian Britain. London: T&T Clark, 2003 

Eaton, Richard M., ed. India's Islamic Traditions, 711-1750. Delhi: Oxford University 
Press 2003 

El-Gamal, Mahmoud. Islamic Finance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006 
Elliot, H. M. and John Dawson, ed. The History of India as Told by its Own Historians: 

The Muhammadan Period, vol. 7. New York: AMS Press, 1966 
Erasmus, Desiderius. Erasmus' Annotations on the New Testament: Galatians to the 

Apocalypse. Ed. Anne Reeve. Leiden: Brill, 1993 

. The Essential Erasmus. Trans. John Dolan. New York: Mentor, 1964 

. Opera Omnia. Ed. Andrew J. Brown. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2001 

. The Praise of Folly. Trans. John Wilson. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan 

Press 1972 

Eusebius! The History of the Church. Trans. G. A. Williamson. Ed. Andrew Louth. New 
York: Penguin, 1989 

Fadel, Mohammed. 'Reinterpreting the' Guardian's Role in the Islamic Contract of 
Marriage.' Journal of Islamic Law 3, no, 1 (1998): 1-26 


Fakhry, Majid. A History of Islamic Philosophy. 2nd edn . New York: Columbia University 
Press, 1983 

Farooqhi, Suraiya, et al. An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire Volume 

Two: 1600-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994 
Fierro, Maribel. 'Ill-Treated Women Seeking Divorce: The Quranic Two Arbiters and 

Judicial Practice amongst Malikis in Al-Andalus and North Africa.' In Dispensing 

Justice inlslam: Qadis and their Judgments.Ed. Muhammad Khalid Masud, Rudolph 

Peters and David Powers, 323-47. Leiden: Brill, 2006 
Fish, Stanley. Is TSiere a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities. 

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980 
. There's No Such ThingasFree Speech, andlt's a Good Thing, Too. New York: Oxford 

University Press, 1994 
Fisher, Samuel. 'Rusticus ad Academicos (The Rustic's Alarm to the Rabbis).' In The 

Testimony of the Truth Exalted. [No place]: [no publisher], 1679 
Frampton, Travis L. Spinoza and the Rise of Historical Criticism of the Bible. New York: 

T&T Clark, 2006 

Francaviglia, Richard and Jerry Rodnitzky, ed. Lights, Camera, History: Portraying the 

Past in Film. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2007 
Francisco, Adam S . Martin Luther and Islam: A Study in Sixteenth-Century Polemics and 

Apologetics. Leiden: Brill, 2007 
Galileo. 'Letter to Christina of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany.' In The Seventeenth 

Century. Ed. Andrew Lossky, 81-94. New York: Free Press, 1967 
Geertz, Clifford. 'Common Sense as a Cultural System.' Antioch Review 67, no. 4 (2009): 


Ghias, Shoaib A. 'Defining Shari'a: The Politics of Islamic Judicial Review in Pakistan.' 

PhD dissertation, University of California Berkeley, 2013 
Gibb, H. A. R., trans. The Travels of Ibn Battuta, 3 vols. New Delhi: Munshiram 

Manoharlal, 2004 

Gibbon, Edward. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 3 vols. New York: Modern 
Library [no date] 

Gesinke, Indira Falk. Islamic Reform and Conservatism. London: I. B. Tauris, 2010 
Al-Ghazali, Abu Hamid. The Incoherence of the Philosophers. Trans. Michael F. Marmura. 

Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1997 
Gibson, Margaret, ed.Boethius, His Life, Thought and Influence. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981 
Gleave, Robert. Islam and Literalism: Literal Meaning and Interpretation in Islamic Legal 

Theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012 
Gohlman, William E., trans. The Life of Ibn Sina. Albany: State University of New York 

Press, 1974 

Gorke, Andreas; Motzki, Harald; and Gregor Schoeler, 'First Century Sources for the 

Life of Muhammad? ADebate.' Der Islam 89, no. 1 (2012): 2-59 
Grant, Robert M. 'Historical Criticism in the Ancient Church.' Journal of Religion 25, 

no. 3 (1945): 183-96 
Green, Arnold H. The Tunisian Ulama 1873-1915. Leiden: Brill, 1978 
Guenther, Alan M. 'Hanafi Fiqh in Mughal India: The Fatawa-i 'Alamgtri! In India's 

Islamic Traditions, 711-1750. Ed. RichardM. Eaton, 209-30. Delhi: Oxford University 

Press, 2003 

Gunny, Ahmad. Perceptions of Islam inEuropean Writings. Chippenham, UK: The Islamic 
Foundation, 2004 

Halbertal, Moshe. People oftheBook: Canon, Meaning, and Authority. Cambridge, MA: 
Harvard University Press, 1997 


Halevi, Judah. TheKuzari. Trans. H. Slonimsky. New York: Schocken Books 1964 
Halm, Heinz. Empire oftheMahdi: The Rise of the Fatimids. Trans. Michael Bonner 
Leiden: Brill, 1996 

Hammer, Juliane. American Muslim Women, Religious Authority, and Activism: More 

than a Prayer. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2012 
Hanna, Nelly. In Praise of Books: A Cultural History of Cairo's Middle Class, Sixteenth 

to the Eighteenth Century. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2003 
Heath, Peter. Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna (Ibn Sina): With a Translation of 

the Book of the Prophet Muhammad's Ascent to Heaven. Philadelphia: University 

of Pennsylvania Press, 1992 
Ho, Engseng. The Graves ofTarim. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006 
Holmes, Oliver Wendell. The Common Law. Chicago: American Bar Association, 2009 
Homer. Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin, 1997 
Hoyland, Robert. Seeing Islam as Others Saw It. Princeton: Darwin Press, 1997 
Hunwick, John O., ed. Shari'a in Songhay. The Replies of al-Maghilito the Questions of 

Askia al-Hajj Muhammad. London: Oxford University Press, 1.985 
Ibn Ezra, Abraham. The Commentary of Abraham ibn Ezra on the Pentateuch, Volume 

5: Deuteronomy. Trans. Jay F. Schachter. Hoboken, NJ: Ktav Publishing, 2003 
Ibn Jubayr, Abu'l-Husayn Muhammad. The Travels of Ibn Jubayr. Trans. Roland 

Broadhurst. London: Goodword Books, 2004 
Ibn Rushd. Averroes' Commentary on Plato's Republic. Trans E. I. J. Rosenthal. 

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956 
. The Book of the Decisive Treatise. Trans. Charles Butterworth. Provo: Brigham 

Young University Press, 2001 

-. Distinguished Jurist's Primer. Trans. Imran Khan Nyazee, 2 vols. Reading, UK: 

Garnet, 1996 

Ivanhoe, Philip J, trans. On Ethics and History: Essays and Letters of Zhang Xuecheng. 

Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010 
Al-Jabri, Mohammed Abed. Arab-Islamic Philosophy: A Contemporary Critique. Trans. 

Aziz Abbassi. Austin, TX: Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 1999 
Jaffee, Martin S. Torah in the Mouth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001 
James, William. Pragmatism and Other Essays. Ed. Joseph Blau. New York: Washington 

Square Press, 1963 

Al-Jazuli, Muhammad bin Sulayman. Guide to Goodness. Trans. Audrey (Hassan) 

Rosowsky. 2nd edn. Chicago: Kazi, 2006 
Jeffery, Arthur. 'Ghevond's Text of the Correspondence between 'Umar II and Leo 

III' Harvard Theological Review 37, no. 4 (1944): 269-332 
Juynboll, G. H. A. The Authenticity of Tradition Literature. Leiden: Brill, 1969 
Kant, immanuel. On History. Ed. Lewis White Beck. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Memll, 

—.o\ a Supposed Right to Lie because of Philanthropic Concerns. Published with 
Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. James W. Ellington. 3rd edn. 

Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993 rt,„ ia 
Keddie, Nikki R. An Islamic Response to Imperialism. Berkeley: University of California 

Press, 1968 

Kermode, Frank. The Classic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983 

. The Genesis of Secrecy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979 

. Sense of an Ending. 3rd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000 

von Kerssenbrock, Hermann. Narrative of the Anabaptist Madness. Trans. Christopher 
S. Mackey, 2 vols. Leiden: Brill, 2007 


Khalafallah, Haifaa. 'Rethinking Islamic Law: Genesis and Evolution in the Islamic 
Legal Method and Structures.' PhD dissertation, Georgetown University, 1999 

Khan, Sir Sayyid Ahmad. Writings and Speeches of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Ed. Shanl 
Mohammad. Bombay: Nachiketa Publications, 1972 

Kirschner, Robert. "The Vocation of Holiness in Late Antiquity.' Vigiliae Christianize 
38(1984): 105-24 

Klein, Michael L. Anthropomorphisms and Anthropopathisms in the Targumim of the 

Pentateuch. Jerusalem: Makor, 1982 
Kozma, Liat. Policing Egyptian Women. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2011 
Kugle, Scott. 'Framed, Blamed and Renamed: The Recasting of Islamic Jurisprudence 

in Colonial South Asia.' Modern Asian Studies 35, no. 2 (2001): 257-313 
Lane, Edward. Manners and Customs of the Modem Egyptians. New York: Cosimo, 2005 
Lapidus, Ira. AHistory of Islamic Societies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988 
Last, D. M. andM. A. Al-Hajj. 'Attempts at Defining a Muslim in 19th-century Hausaland 

and Bornu.' Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 3, no. 2 (1965): 231-40 
Lawrence, Bruce, ed. Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden. Trans. 

James Howarth. London: Verso, 2005 
Lefebure, Leo. 'Violence in the New Testament and the History of Interpretation.' In 

Fighting Words: Religion, Violence, and the Interp relation of Sacred Texts, ed. John 

Renard, 75-100. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012 
Levine, Lee 1. Judaism and Hellenism in Antiquity: Conflict or Confluence. Seattle: 

University of Washington Press, 1998 
Lewis, Bernard. Islam and the West. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993 
Livy, Titus. The Early History of Rome. Trans. Aubrey de Selincourt. London : Penguin 

Books, 1960 

Lombardi, Clark B. State Law as Islamic Law in Modern Egypt. Leiden: Brill, 2006 
The Lotus Sutra. Trans. Burton Watson. New York: Colombia University Press, 1993 
Lowenthal, David. The Past is a Foreign Country. Cambridge: Cambridge University 
Press, 1985 

Lucian of Samosata. Lucian: A Selection. Ed. M. D. Macleod. Warminster, UK: Aris 
& Phillips, 1991 

. Selected Satires of Lucian. Trans. Lionel Lesson. New York: Norton, 1962 

Luther, Martin. The Large Catechism. Trans. F. Bente and W H. T. Dau. Penn State 

Electronic Classics, 2000 (available 


Lyons, Jonathan. Islam through Western Eyes. New York: Columbia University Press, 

Macfarlane, Alan. The Origins of English Individualism. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1978 
Madison, James, et al. Federalist Papers. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. New York: Oxford 

University Press, 2008 
Maimonides. The Guide for the Perplexed. Trans. M. Friedlander. 2nd edn. New York: 

Dover Publications, 1956 
Malachowski, Alan R., ed. Reading Rorty. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990 
Mansfield, Peter. TheBritish in Egypt. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971 
Marracci, Ludovico. 'Prodromus.' In Alcorani: Textus Universus. [Padua]: (no 

publisher), 1698 

Margoliouth, D. S. Mohammad and the Rise of "Islam. New York: Cosimo, 2006, originally 
published 1905 

Marin, Manuela. 'Disciplining Wives: A Historical Reading of Qur'an 4:34.' Studia 
Islamica 97 (2003): 5-40 


McCarthy, Justin. The Ottoman Turks. London: Longman, 1996 
McKae, John R. Seeing Through Zen. Berkeley: University of California Press 2003 
Meijer, Roel, ed. Global Salafism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009 
Melchert, Christopher. "The Musnad of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal: How It Was Composed 

and What Distinguishes It from the Six Books.' Der Islam 82 (2005): 32-51 
Metcalf, Barbara and Thomas. A Concise History of India. Cambridge: Cambridge 

University Press, 2002 
Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism, On Liberty, Essay on Bentham. Ed. Mary Warnock 

New York: Meridian Books, 1974 
Montagu, Mary Wortley. Letters. New York: Everyman's Library, 1906. 
Montesquieu, Charles Louis. De I'Esprit des lois. Ed. Laurent Versini, 2 vols. [Paris]: 

Gallimard, 1995 

. LettresPersanes. Ed. Paul Verniere. Paris: Gamier Freres, 1960 

. Persian Letters. Trans. C. S. Betts. New York: Penguin, 1993 

Montgomery, James. 'Ibn Fadlan and the Rusiyyah.' Journal of Arabic and Islamic 

Studies 3, no. 1 (2000): 1-25 
More, Sir Thomas. Responsio Ad Lutherum. Trans. Gertrude Joseph Donnelly. 

Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1962 
Moreh, Shmuel, trans. Napoleon in Egypt. Princeton: Markus Wiener, 1997 
Motzki, Harald. 'The Musannaf of 'Abd al-Razzaq al-San'anl as a Source of Authentic 

Ahddith of the First Century A.H.' Journal of 'Near Eastern Studies 50 (1991): 1-21 
Mubarak, Hadia. 'Breaking the Interpretive Monopoly: A Re-Examination of Verse 

4:34.' Hawwa 2, no. 3 (2005): 261-89 
Nana, Maulana Abdullah. The Maidens ofjannat. 3rd edn. Karachi: ZamZam, 2012 
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Philosophy and Truth. Trans. Daniel Breazede. New Jersey: 

Humanitarian Press, 1979 
Nyberg, David. The Varnished Truth: Truth Telling and Deceiving in Ordinary Life. 

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993 
Ockley, Simon. History of the Saracens: Lives of Mohammed and His Successors. London: 

Henry G. Bohn, 1847 
Origen. Origen. Ed. and trans. Rowan Greer. New York: Paulist Press, 1979 
Oyediran, Kolawole Azeez and Uche Isiugo-Abanihe. 'Perceptions of Nigerian Women 

on Domestic Violence: Evidence from 2003 Nigeria Demographic and Health 

Survey 'African Journal of Reproductive Health 9, no. 2 (2005): 38-53 
Papaconstantinou, Arietta, ed. Writing 'True Stories': Historians andHagiographersin 

the Late Antique and Medieval Near East. Tumhouv.Brepols, 2010 
Parwez, Ghulam Ahmad. Islam: A Challenge to Religion. Lahore: Tolu-e Islam Trust, 

PellJng 8 C B. R. ' Truth and Fiction in Plutarch's Lives' In Antonine Literature, ed. D. 

A. Russell, 19-52. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990 
Peters, Rudolph. Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law. Cambridge: Cambridge 

University Press, 2005 , 
Petrarch, Francesco. The Secret. Trans. William H. Draper. London: Chatto & Windus, 

PmZHpindar's Victory Songs. Trans. Frank Nisetich. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins 

University Press, 1990 
Plato. Phaedrus. Trans. Walter Hamilton. London: Penguin, 1973 

.Symposium. Trans. Alexander Nehamas. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989 

Plutarch. Lives I. Trans. Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University 

Press, 1914 


Polybius. The Histories. Trans. Mortimer Chambers. New York: Washington Square 
Press, 1966 

Popkin, Richard. History of Skepticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003 \ 
Poulton, Hugh. Top Hat, Grey Wolf and Crescent. New York: New York University 
Press, 1997 

Powell, Avril A. Scottish Orientalists andlndia: The Muir Brothers, Religion, Education 

andEmpire. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2010 
Poznanski, Samuel. Hie Literary Opponents ofSaadiah Gaon. London: Luzac, 1968 
Proussi, Costas M. "The Orator: Isocrates.' In The Educated Man, ed. Paul Nash, et al., 

55-76. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1965 
Pye, Michael. SkilfulMeans:AConceptinMahayanaBuddhism. London: Duckworth, 1978 
Qasmi, Ali Usman. Questioning the Authority of the Past: The Ahlal-Qur'an Movement 

in the Punjab. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 201 1 
Rahman, Fazlur. Islam and Modernity. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1982 
. Islamic Methodology in History. Karachi: Central Institute for Islamic Research, 


Rabb, Theodore K. and Jerrold E. Seigel, ed. Action and Conviction in Early Modern 

Europe. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969 
Von Ranke, Leopold. The Secret of World History: Selected Writings on the Art and 

Science of 'History. Ed. Roger Wines. New York: Fordham University Press, 1981 
Rapoport, Yossef. 'Legal Diversity in the Age of Taqlld: The Four Chief Qadls under 

the Mamluks.' Islamic Law and Society 10, no. 2 (2003): 210-28 
Reimarus, Hermann. Reimarus: Fragments. Ed. Charles H. Talbert. Philadelphia: 

Fortress Press, 1970 
Richardson, Cyril, ed. Early Christian Fathers. New York: Macmillan, 1979 
Rida, Rashid. The Muhammadan Revelation. Trans. Yusuf T. DeLorenzo. Alexandria, 

VA: Al-Saadawi Publications, 1996 
Roper, Lyndal. 'Sexual Utopianismin the German Reformation,'' Journal of Ecclesiastical 

History 42, no. 3 (1991): 391-418 
Rosenfeld, Sophia. Common Sense: A Political History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard 

University Press, 2011 
Russell, Alexander. A Natural History of Aleppo, 2 vols. London: (no publisher), 1794 
Russell, Donald A. and David Constant, trans. Heraclitus: Homeric Problems. Atianta: 

Society of Biblical Literature, 2005 
Russel, D. S. From Early Judaism to Early Chunk. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986 
Ryad, Umar. 'The Dismissal of A. J. Wensinck from the Royal Academy of the Arabic 

Language in Cairo.' In The Study of Religion and the Training of Muslim Clergy in 

Europe, ed. Willem B. Drees and Pieter Sjoerd van Koningsveld, 91-134. Leiden: 

Leiden University Press, 2008 

. Islamic Reformism and Christianity. Leiden: Brill, 2009 

Saadia Gaon. The Book of Beliefs and Opinions. Trans. Samuel Rosenblatt. New Haven: 

Yale University Press, 1948 
Sadegbi, Behnam. The Logic of Law Making in Islam: Women in Prayer in the Legal 

Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013 
. and Mohsen Goudarzi. 'San'a' 1 and the Origins of the Qur'an.' Der Islam 87, 

no. 1 (2012): 1-40 

Sailer, Richard P. Patriarchy, Property and Death in the Roman Family. Cambridge: 

Cambridge University Press, 1994 
Sallust, Gaius Crispus. Jugurthine War. Trans. S. A. Handford. New York: Penguin 

Classics, 1967 


Schaff, Philip, ed. Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans 
Publishing, [1886] 

Schroeder, John W. Skillful Means: The Heart of Buddhist Compassion. Honolulu: 

University of Hawaii Press, 2001 
Semerdjian, Elyse. Of the Straight Path: Illicit Sex, Law, and Community in Ottoman 

Aleppo. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2008 
Seng, Yvonne. 'Invisible Women: Residents of early Sixteenth-Century Istanbul.' In 

Womenin the Medieval Islamic World, ed. Gavin R. G. Hambly, 241-68. New York: 

St. Martin's Press, 1998 
Shaikh, Sa'diyya. Sufi Narratives of Intimacy: Ibn Arabi, Gender and Sexuality. Chapel 

Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2012 
Smalley, Beryl. Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages. 3rdedn. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 


Spink, J. S. French Free-Thought. London: Athlone Press, 1960 

Spinoza, Baruch. Theological-Political Treatise. Trans. Michael Silverthorne and 

Jonathan Israel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007 
Spitzer, Alan. Historical Truth and Lies about the Past. Chapel Hill: University of North 

Carolina Press, 1996 

Saint-Simon, Henri. Social Organization, The Science of Man and Other Writings. Ed. 

Felix Markham. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1952 
Stevens, Laura M. 'Civility and Skepticism in the Woolston-Sherlock Debates over 

Miracles.' Eighteenth- Century Life 21, no. 3 ( 1997): 57-70. 
Sunstein, Cass R. Legal Reasoning and Political Conflict. New York: Oxford University 

Press, 1996 

Tartar, Georges, trans. Dialogue Islamo-Chretien sous le calife al-Ma'mun (813-34). 

Paris: Nouvelles Editions Latines, 1985 
Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Oxford University Press, 


Thomas, Yan. 'Vitae Necisque Potestas: Le Pere, La Cite, La Mort.' Publications de 

I'EcoleFrangaisedeRome (1984): 499-548 
Thompson, E. P. Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act. New York: Pantheon 

Books, 1975 , 
Thucydides. The Peloponnesian War. Trans. John F. Finley. New York: Random House, 

Tillier, Mathieu. 'Women before the Qadt under the Abbasids.' Islamic Law and Society 
16 (2009): 280-301 „ . , 

Tucker, Judith. In the House of the Law:. Gender and Islamic Law in Ottoman Syria and 

Palestine. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998 
Vevne Paul. Comment on ecritVhistoire. Paris: Editions du Semi, 1971 
Vico, Giambattista. On the Study Methods of Our Time. Trans. Elio Gianturco. New 

York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965 
Virgil. Eclogues, Georgtcs, Aeneid 1-6. Trans. H. R. Fa.rclough. Cambridge, MA. 

Harvard University Press, 1994 
Voltaire. Dictionnaire Philosophique. Paris: Boudouin Freres, 1829 

. Essai sur les moeurs. Paris: Editions Gamier Freres, 1963 ^ ^ . 

. Le Siicle de LouisXW. Ed. Jacqueline Hellegouarch and Sylvam Menant. Paris. 

Le Livre de Poche, 2005 
. Oeuvres Completes. Paris: Gamier Freres, 1879 

Wadud, Amina. Inside the Gender Jihad. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2006 
— ^. Qur'an and Woman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999 


Weismann, Itzchak. The Naqshbandiyya. London: Routledge, 2007 

Wilbur, Earl Morse. A History ofUnitarianism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University 

Press, 1947 \ 
Williams, Patrick and Laura Chrisman, ed. ColonialDiscourse and Post-Colonial Theory. 

New York: Columbia University Press, 1994 
Woolston, Thomas. Third Discourse on Miracles of our Savior (A third discourse on 

the miracles of our Saviour, in view of the present controversy between infidels and 

apostates). 4th edn. London: [no publisher], 1729 
Wiirth, Anna. 'Stalled Reform: Family Law in Post-Unification Yemen.' Islamic Law 

andSociety 10, no. 1 (2003): 12-33 
Yazbak, Mahmoud. 'Minor Marriages and khiyar al-bulugh in Ottoman Palestine: a 

Note on Women's Strategies in a Patriarchal Society.' Islamic Law and Society 9, 

no. 3(2002): 386-409 
Yount, Kathryn M. 'Resources, Family Organization, and Domestic Violence against 

Married Women in Minya, Egypt.' Journal of Marriage and Family 67, no. 3 (200 5) : 


Yuksel, Edip; al-Shaiban, Layth Saleh and Martha Schulte-Nafeh. Quran: A Reformist 

Translation. [No place]; Brainbow Press, 201 1 
Zaman, Muhammad Qasim. 'Studying Hadith in a Madrasa in the Early Twentieth 

Century.' In Islam in South Asia inPractice, ed. Barbara Metcalf, 225-39. Princeton: 

Princeton University Press, 2009 
Zarinebaf-Shahr, Fariba. 'Women in the Public Eye in Eighteenth -Century Istanbul.' 

In Women in the Medieval Islamic World, ed. Gavin R. G. Hambly, 301-24. New 

York: St. Martin's Press, 1998 
Zecevic, Selma. 'Missing Husbands, Waiting Wives, Bosnian Muftis: Fatwa Texts and 

the Interpretation of Gendered Presences and Absences in Late Ottoman Bosnia.' 

In Women in the Ottoman Balkans, ed. Amila Buturovic and Irvin Cemil Schick. 

New York: I. B. Tauris, 2007 
Ziadeh, Farhat. Lawyers, the Rule of Law and Liberalism in Modern Egypt. Stanford, 

CA: Hoover Institution, 1968 


Abduh, Muhammad. At-A'mdlal-kdmila li'l-imam al-shaykh Muhammad Abduh. Ed. 

Muhammad 'Amara, 6 vols. Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 1993 
Al-Abi, Salih 'Abd al-Salam. Al-Thamar al-danifi taqrib al-ma'aniHashiyatRisdlat Tbn 

AbiZayd al-Q_ayrawdni. 2nd edn. Cairo: Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi, 1944 
Abu Rayya, Mahmud. Adwd" 'ala al-sunna al-muhammadiyya. Cairo: Dar al-Ta'lif, 1 958 
Abu Sulayman, Abd al-Hamid. Darb al-mar'a wasila ti-hall al-khildfdt al-zawjiyya. 

Cairo: Dar al-Salam, 2003 (original printing, 2001) 
Abu Zahra, Muhammad. Fatdwd. Ed. Muhammad 'Uthman Shabir. Damascus: Dar 

al-Qalam, 2006 

Abu Zayd, Nasir Harnid. Naqd al-khitdb al-dini. Cairo: SIna, 1996 

Abu Zur'a al-Dimashql. Tdrikh AbiZur'a al-Dimashqi. Ed. Khalil al-Mansur. Beirut: 

Dar al-Kutub al-Tlmiyya, 1996 
Al-Ahdal, Abd al-Rahman b. SuIaymanM/-Ai r «/a.s al-Yamdni. Sana: Markaz al-Dirasat 

wa'I-Abhath al-Islamiyya, 1979 
AI-Ajlum, Isma'Il b. Muhammad. Kashf al-khafd 'ammd ishtahara min al-ahddith 'aid 

alsinat al-nds. Ed. Ahmad al-Qalash, 2 vols. Cairo: Maktabat Dar al-Turath, 1997 


Al-Ajurri, Abu Bakr. Sifat al-ghurabd' min al-mu'minin. Ed. Badr Abdallah al-Badr 
Kuwait: Dar al-Khulafa', 1983 

Al-Albani, Muhammad Nasir al-Din. Da'if Sunan Ibn Mdjah. Riyadh; Maktabat al- 
Ma'arif, 1997 

. Fatdwd al-Shaykh al-Albdni. Ed. 'Ukasha 'Abd al-Mannan al-Tayyibl. Cairo: 

Maktabat al-Turath al-Islaml, 1994 
. Irw a al-ghalil takhrij ahddlth Mandral-sab S.Ed. Muh ammad Zahir al-Shawish. 

Beirut: Al-Maktab al-Islami, 1979 

. Mukhtasar Sahih al-Bukhdri, 4 vols. Riyadh: Maktabat al-Ma'arif, 2002 

. Sahih Sunan AblDdwud, 7 vols. Kuwait: Mu'assasat Gharas, 2002 

. Silsilat al-ahddith al-da'ifa wa'l-mawdua. 2nd edn, 14 vols. Riyadh: Maktabat 

al-Ma'arif, 2000-2005 

. Silsilat al-ahddith al-sahiha, 7 vols. Riyadh: Maktabat al-Ma'arif, 1995-2002 

Al-'Aqqad, Abbas Mahmud. Al-Siddiqabintal-Siddiq. 3rd edn. Cairo: Dar al-Ma'arif, [1966] 
Al-Aqqad, 'Amir. Lamahdt min haydt al-Aqqdd. 2nd edn. Cairo: Dar al-Sha'b, 1970 
Al-Ash'arl, Abu a\-Y{&san.Al-Ibdna 'an usiil al-diydna. Ed. Fawqiyya Husayn Mahmud. 

Cairo: Daral-Ansar, 1977 
Al-Askari, Abu Hilal. Kitdb al-Awd'il. Ed. WalTd Qassab and Muhammad al-Misri, 2 

vols. [Cairo]: Daral 'Ulum, 1981 
Al-'Awda, Salman. Dawdbit li'l-dirdsdt al-fiqhiyya. Riyadh: Maktabat al-Rushd, 2004. 

This book was originally written in 1 98 3 
Al-'Ayni, Badr al-Din, and Muhammad 'Umar Nasir al-Islam al-Rampur 1. Al-Bindy a 

shark al-Hiddya. 2nd edn, 12 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1990 
. Skarh Sunan AbiDdwud. Ed. Khalid Ibrahim al-Misri, 7 vols. Riyadh: Maktabat 

al-Rushd, 1999 

Al-Baghdadi, al-Khatlb Abu Bakr. Tdrikh Baghdad. Ed. MustaiS Abd al-Qadir Ata, 14 
vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-Tlmiyya, 1997 

Al-Ba'li, 'Abd al-Rahman. Kashf al-mukhaddardt. Ed. Muhammad Nasir al-'Ajmi. Beirut : 
Dar al-Basha'ir al-Islamiyya, 2002 

Al-Battar, Khadlja. Ft naqd al-Bukhdrikdna wa bayn al-haqq hijdb. [Casablanca]: 
Manshurat al-Ahdath al-Maghribivya, 2003 

Al-Bayhaqi, Abu Bakr Ahmad. Kitdb al-Ba'th wa'l-nushur. Ed. 'Amir Ahmad Haydar. 
Beirut: Markaz al-Khadamat wa'l-Abhath al-1haqafiyya, 1987 

. Al-Sunan al-kubrd. Ed. Muhammad Abd al-Qadir Ata, 11 vols. Beirut: Dar al- 
Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 1999 

Al-Bayjurl, Burhan al-Din Ibrahim. Hdshiyat al-imdm al-Bayjuri aldjawharat al-tawhid. 
Ed. 'Alljum'a. Cairo: Dar al-Salam, 2006 

Al-Baz, Muhammad. Du'dtftl-manfa. Cairo: Faris, 2004 

Al-Bazzar, Abu Bakr. Musnad al-Bazzdr. Ed. Mahfu? al-Rahman al-Salafi, 10 vols. 

Beirut, Medina: Mu'assasat 'Ulum al-Qur'an, 1989 _^ 
Bin Baz, Abd al-'Aziz and Muhammad Ibn 'Uthaymln. Fatdwd al-'ulama It l-ntsa . 

Cairo: Maktabat al-Sunna, 1995 
Al-BIrunI, Abu al-Rayhan. Tahqiq ma li'l-Hind min maqula maqbulafil- aqlaw mardhula. 

Hyderabad: Da'irat al-Ma'arif al-'Uthmaniyya, 1958 _ 
Al-Buhuti, Mansur b. Yunus. Al-Rawd al-murbi. Ed. Bashlr Muhammad Uyun. 

Damascus: Maktabat Dar al-Bayan, 1999 
Burhami, Ksir. Fadlal-ghanial-hamidta'liqdthdmma 'aBKitdb al-Tawhtd. Alexandria: 

Dar al-Khulafa' al-Rashidm, 2009 
Al-Daraqutni, AH b. 'Umar. Al-'IM al-wdrida fi al-ahddith al-nabawiyya. Ed. Mabiuz 
al-Rahman al-Salafi, II vols. Riyadh: Dar TIba, 1985 


. Sunan, Ed. Abdallah Hashim YamanI, 4 vols in 2. Beirut: Dar al-Ma'rifa, 1966 

Al-Darimi, Abdallah b. 'Abd al-Rahman. Sunan. Ed. Fawaz Ahmad Zamarll and Khalid 
al-'Alami, 2 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-'Arabi, 1987 \ 

Al-Daylarnl, Shlruwayh b. Shahrudar. Firdaws al-akhbdr. Ed. Sa'id Basyuni Zaghlul, 
6 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Umiyya, 1986 

Al-Dhahabi, Shams al-Dln. Bay an raghal al-'ilm wa'l-talab. Ed. Muhammad Zahid 
al-Kawthari. Cairo: al-Maktaba al-Azhariyya [no date] 

. Mizdn al~ i 'tidal ft naqd al-rijdl. Ed. 'All Muhammad al Bijawi, 4 vols. Beirut: Dar 

al-Ma'rifa [no date], reprint of 1963-64 Cairo 'Isa al-Babi al-Halabl edn 

. Al-Mughni ft al-du'afa. Ed. Hazim al-Qadi, 2 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al- 
'Umiyya, 1997 

. Siyara'lam at-nubald'. Ed. Shu'ayb al-Arna'ut, et al, 25 vols. Beirut: Mu'assasat 

al-Risala, 1992-98 

Al-Dimashql, Muhammad b. Ali al-'Umari. Al-Nazm al-muftd al-ahmad ft mufraddt 
madhhab al-imdm Ahmad. Ed. Faysal Yusuf al-'AH. Beirut: Dar al-Basha'ir al- 
Islamiyya, 2006 

Al-Fadam, Yasin. Al-'Ujala ft al-ahddith al-musalsala. 2nd edn. Damascus: Dar al- 
Basa'ir, 1985 

Al-GhazaTi, Hujjat al Islam Abu Hamid. Ihya' 'ulitm al-dtn. Ed. Muhammad Wahbi 
Sulayman and Usama 'Ammura, 5 vols. Damascus: Dar al-Fikr, 2006 

— — . Mi'ydr al-'ilm. Cairo: al-Matba'a al-Muniriyya [no date] 

Al-Ghazali, Muhammad. Al-Sunna al-nabawiyya bayn ahl al-fiqh wa ahl al-hadith. 
11th edn. Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 1998 

. Turdthund al-fikri. 8th edn. Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2003 

. Qaddyd al-mar'a. 5th edn. Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 1994 

Al-Ghazzi, Najm al-Din. Al-Kawdkib al-sa'ira bi-a'ydn al-mi'a al-'dshira. Ed. Jibra'Il 

Jabbur, 3 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Afaq al-Jadida, 1979 
Al-Ghumari, Ahmad bin al-Siddlq. Al-Bahr al- 'amiqfimarwiydtlbn al-Siddiq, 2 vols. 

Cairo: Dar al-Kutubl, 2007 
. Burhdn al-jallfi tahqiq intisdb al-sufiyya ila Alt. Ed. Ahmad Mursi. Cairo: 

Maktabat al-Qahira [no date] 
. Masdlik al-dildla 'aid masa'il matn al-Risala. 3rd edn. Cairo : Maktabat al-Qahira, 


. Al-Mudawi li-'ilal al-Jdmi' al-saghir wa sharhay al-Mundwt, 6 vols. Cairo: Dar 

al-Kutub, 1996 

. Silsilat al-sdda al-Ghumariyya. Ed. Muhammad 'All Yusuf. Cairo: Maktabat 

al-Qaiiira [no date] 

Gomaa, Ali. Al-Baydn li-md yashghalu al-adhhdn. Cairo: al-Muqattam, 2005 

. Fataivd al-nisd'. Cairo: Al-Muqattam, 2010 

. Al-Ijmd' 'ind al-usuliyym. Cairo: Dar al-Risala, 2002 

. Al-Tartq ild al-turdth al-isldmi. 4th edn. Cairo: Nahdat Misr, 2009 

Al-Hakim Muhammad b. 'Abdallah al-Naysaburl. Al-Mustadrak 'aid al-Sahlhayn. 
Hyderabad: Da'irat al-Ma'arif al-'Uthmaniyya 

Al-Hamadhani, Abu Nasr Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Rahman. Al-Sab'iyydt ft mawd'iz al- 
barriyydt. MS 1378, King Saud University, Riyadh 

Husayn, Muhammad Khidr. Al-Sa'dda al-'uzmd. Ed. 'All al-Rida al-Tunsi, 1973 

Al-HaytamI, Ahmad Ibn Hajar. Al-Fatdwd al-hadithiyya. Ed. Muhammad 'Abd al- 
Rahman al-Mar'ashli. Beirut: Dar Ihya' al-Turath al-'Arabi, 1998 

Al-Hujayll, Muhammad Bakhit. Ajwibatlbn al-Qayyim 'an al-ahddith allatt zdhiruhd 
al-ta'arud, 2 vols. Riyadh: Sunan s 2011 


Ibn 'Abd al-Barr, Abu 'Umar Yusuf. JdmV bay an al-'ilm wa fadlihi, 2 vols. Cairo: Dar 

al-Tiba'a al-Muniriyya [no date] 
. Kitab al-Tamhid li-ma ft al-Muwatta 1 min al-ma'dni wa'l-asdntd. Ed Mustafa 

Ahmad al-'Alawi and Muhammad 'Abd al-Kablr al-Bakri, 2 nd edn, 26 vols. Rabat: 

Wizarat 'Umum al-Awqaf wa al-Shu'un aHslamiyya, 1982-. 
Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, Sulayman. Al-Sawa'iq al-ildhiyya ft al-radd 'aid al-Wahhdbiyya 

[no place, publisher or date] 
Ibn Abl al-Dunya. Kitab al-Ghiba. Ed. 'Amr 'All 'Umar. Bombay: al-Dar al-Salafiyya, 1989 
. Kitab al-samt wa dddb al-lisan. Ed. Najm 'Abd al-Rahman Khalaf. Beirut: Dar 

al-Gharb al-Islami, 1986 
Ibn Abi al-Wafa' al-Qurashl. Al-Jawdhir almudiyya fitabaqdl al-hanafiyya. Ed. 'Abd 

al-Fattah Muhammad al-Halw, 5 vols. Giza: Mu'assasat al-Risala, 1978-88 
Ibn 'Abidin, Muhammad Amin. Hdshiyat Radd al-muhtdr, 8 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 

1992. A reprint of the 1966 Cairo Mustafa al-Babl al-Halabi edn 
Ibn 'Adi, Abu Ahmad 'Abdallah. Al-Kdmil ft du'afd' al-rijdl, 7 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 


Ibn Amir al-Hajj, Muhammad. Al-Taqrir wa'l-tahbir, 3 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1996 
Ibn al-'Arabi, Abu Bakr. Ahkam al-Qur'dn. Ed. Muhammad 'Abd al-Qadir 'Ata, 4 vols. 

Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 2008 
Ibn 'Arabi, Muhyi al-Din. Al-Futuhdt al-makkiyya. Ed. 'Uthman Yahya and Ibrahim 

Madkur, 14 vols. Cairo: al-Hay'a al-Misriyya al-'Amma, 1972-92 
Ibn 'Ashur, Muhammad Tahir. Maqdlat. Ed. 'All Rida Husayni. Tunis: [no publisher], 


. Al-Tahrir wa'l-Tanwir, 17 vols. Tunis: al-Dar al-Tunisiyya, 1984 

Ibn Duwayyan, Ibrahim b. Muhammad. Mandr al-sabtl ft shark al-Dalil. Ed. Zuhayr 

Shawish. 7th edn, 2 vols. Damascus: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1989 
Ibn al-Faras, 'Abd al-Mun'im b. Abd al-Rahim.ylMam al-Qur'dn. Ed. Taha 'All Busarih, 

3 vols. Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 2006 
Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani, Ahmad. Bulugh al-mardm. Ed. Tariq 'Awad Allah. Beirut: Dar 

Ibn Hazm, 2008 

. Path al-Bdri sharh Sahih al-Bukhdri. Ed. 'Abd al-'Aziz b. 'Abdallah b. Baz and 

Muhammad Fu'ad 'Abd al-Baqi, 16 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 1997 

. Al-Dirdya takhrij ahddith al-Hiddya. Ed. 'Abdallah Hashim al-Yamani. Beirut: 

Dar al-Ma'rifa [no date] 

. Al-Durar al-kdmina ft a'ydn al-mi'a al-thdmina, 4 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Jil, 1993 

. Lisdn al-mizdn, 7 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr [no date] 

. Tahdhib al-tahdhib. Ed. Mustafa 'Abd al-Qadir 'Ata, 12 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub 

al-'Ilmiyya, 1994 j , . „ 

-. Talkhis al-habirfttakhry ahddith al-Rdfi'i al-kabir, 4 vols. Ed. Abu Asim Hasan 

'Abbas. Cairo : Mu'assasat Qurtuba, 1995 
Ibn al-Hajj, Muhammad al-Ma!iki. Al-Madkhal, 4 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, [1990] 
Ibn Hisham, 'Abd al-Malik. Al-Sira al-nabawiyya. Ed. Jamal Thabit and Muhammad 

Mahmud, 5 vols. Cairo: Dar al-Hadith, 1998 
Ibn al-lawzl, 'Abd al-Rahman. Ahkam al-nisa. Cairo: Dar al-Hady al-Muhammadi ,1985 
. Kitab al-Mawdudt. Ed. 'Abd al-Rahman Muhammad 'Uthman, 3 vols. Medina: 

al-Maktaba al-Salafiyya, 1966-68 
.Kitdb al-Qussds wa'l-mudhakkirin. Ed. Merlin Swartz. Beirut: Dar El-Macnreq, 


. Al-Muntazam ft tdrikh al-muluk wa'l-umam. Ed. Muhammad 'Abd al-Qadir Ata 

and Mustafa 'Abd al-Qadir 'Ata, 18 vols in 16. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 1992 


Ibn Kathir, Isma'il. Al-Biddya wa'l-Nihdya, 14 vols. Beirut: Maktabat al-Ma'arif, 1966 
. The Life of the Prophet Muhammad. Trans. Trevor Le Gassick. Reading, UK: 

Garnett, 1998 ' 
Ibn Miskawayh, Ahmad b. Muhammad. Tahdhib al-akhldq. Ed. QustanUn Zurayq. 

Beirut: American University in Beirut, 1966 
Ibn Muflih al-Maqdisi. Al-Addb al-shar'iyya. Ed. Shu'ayb al-Arna'ut, et al., 3 vols. 

Beirut: Mu'assasat al-Risala, 1996 
Ibn al-MuIaqqin, 'Umar b. 'AH. Al-Badr al-munirfi takhrij al-ahddith wa'l-dthdr al- 

wdqi'a fial-Sharh al-kabir. Ed. Mustafa Abu al-Ghayt, et al., 10 vols. Riyadh: Dar 

al-Hijra, 2004 

Ibn al-Mundhir, Muhammad b. Ibrahim. Al-Ishrdf 'ala madhdhib al-fuqaha. Ed. Abu 
Hammad Saghir Ahmad al-Ansari, 10 vols. Mecca: Maktabat Makka al-Thaqafiyya, 

Ibn Nadlm, Abu al-Faraj Muhammad. TheFihrist. Ed. and trans. Bayard Dodge. Chicago: 

Kazi PubHcations, 1998. Reprint of the 1970 Columbia University Press edn 
Ibn Nasir al-DTn al-Dimashqi. Al-Tarfih li-hadith saldt al-tasbih. Ed. Mahmud Mamduh. 

Beirut: Dar al-Basha'ir, 1985 
Ibn Nujaym al-Hanafi. Al-Ashbdh wa'l-naza'ir. Ed. Muhammad Muti' al-Hafiz. 

Damascus: Dar al-Fikr, 1986 
Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya. Flam al-muwaqqi'in 'an rabb al-'alamin. Ed. Muhammad 'Izz 

al-Din Khattab, 5 vols. Beirut: Dar Ihya' al-Turath al- Arab!, 2001 

. Kitdb al-Ruh. Ed. 'Arif al-Hajj. Beirut: Dar Ihya al-'Ulum, 1988 

. Al-Mandr al-munlffi al-sahih wa'l-da'if Ed. Abd ai-Fattah Abii Ghudda, 12th 

edn. Beirut: Maktab al-Matbu'at al-Islamiyya, 2004 
. Zad al-mi'dd. Ed. Shu'ayb and 'Abd al-Qadir al-Arna'ut. Beirut: Mu'assasat 

al-Risala, 1986 

Ibn Qudama, Muwaffaq al-Din. 'Dhamm al-ta'wil.' In Rasa'il diniyya salafiyya, ed. 

Zakariyyi AH Yusuf, 64-91. Cairo: Matba'at al-Imam [no date] 
. AI-Mughnl Ed. Abdallah al-Turkl and 'Abd al-Fattah al-Halw, 12 vols. Cairo: 

Hujr, 1986 

. Tahrimal-nazarfikutub ahl al-kaldm.Ed. George Makdisi. London: Luzac, 1962 

Ibn Qudama, Najm al-Din Abu al-'Abbas Ahmad. Mukhtasar Minhdj al-qdsidln. Ed. 

Muhammad Ahmad Dahman, Shu'ayb al-Arna'ut and 'Abd al-Qadir al-Arna ut. 

Damascus: Maktabat Dar al-Bayan, 1978 
Ibn Qutayba, Abdallah al-Dinawari. Ta'wil mukhtalif al-hadith. Ed. Muhammad Zuhri 

al-Napr. Beirut: Dar al-Jil, 1973 
Ibn al-Salah, Abu 'Amr. Muqaddima. Ed. 'Alsha 'Abd al-Rahman. Cairo: Dar al-Ma'arif, 


Ibn Salama, Abu al-Qasim Hibat Allah. Al-Ndsikh wa'l-mansiikh. 2nd edn. Cairo: 

Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi, 1967 
Ibn Sayyid al-Nas, Muhammad. 'Uyttn al-athar jfifunun al-maghazi iva'l-shamail iva 7- 

siyar, 2 vols. Dar al-Afaq al-Jadida, 1977 
Ibn Sina. Kitdb al-Shifd': Ildhiyydt. Ed. Ibrahim Madkur. Cairo, I960 
Ibn Taymiyya, Taqi al-Din Ahmad, Al-Fatwd al-Hamawiyya. Ed. Muhammad Riyad 

al-Atharl. Beirut: 'Alam al-Kutub, 2005 
. Majmuat al-fatawd. Ed. Sayyid flusayn al-'Affam and KhayrI Sa'id, 35 vols. 

Cairo: al-Maktaba ai-TawfTqiyya [no date] 
Ibn 'Uthaymln, Muhammad Salih. Kitdb al-'Ilm. Ed. Fahd bin Nasir al-Sulayman. 

Riyadh: Dar al-Thurayya, 2002 
. Al-Sharh al-mumti' 'aid Zad al-mustaqni'. Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2002 


Ibn Wad'an, Muhammad b. AH al-Mawsili. Al-Arba'un al-wad'dniyya al-mawdu'a. Ed 

'AH Hasan 'Abd al-Hamld. Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986 
Al-Jawi, Muhammad Nawawi b. 'Umar. Qut al-habib al-gharib. Cairo : Matba'at Mustafa 

al-Babi al-Halabl, 1938 
Al-Juwayni, Imam al-Haramayn Abd al-Malik. Al-Burhdnfl usu! al-fiqh. Ed. Abd al- 

Azim Mahmud al-DIb, 3 vols. Mansoura: Dar al-Wafa', 1998 
. Al-Kdfiyafi al-jadal. Ed. Fawziya Husayn Mahmud. Cairo: Dar Ihya al-Kutub 

al-'Arabiyya, 1979 

. Al-Waraqdt bi-sharh al-imdmjaldl al-Din al-Mahalll Ed. 'Abd al-Salam Abd 

al-Had! Shannar and Riyad Khattab. Damascus: Dar al-Farfiir, 2002 
Kandhlawl, Muhammad Zakariyya. Awjaz al-masdlik ild Muwatta' Malik. Ed. Taqi 

al-Din al-Nadwi, 29 vols. Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 2003 
Al-Kasani, 'Ala' al-Din. Badd'i' al-sand'i'. 2nd edn, 7 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al- 
'Ilmiyya, 1982 

Al-Kasham, Mawla Muhsin Fayd. Tafsir al-sdfi. Ed. Husayn al-A'lami, 3 vols. Beirut: 

Mu'assasat al-A'lami, 1979 
Al-Kawakibi, Abd al-Rahman. Al-A'mdl al-kdmila. Ed. Muhammad 'Amara. 2nd edn. 

Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2009 
Al-Khafaji Ahmad Shihab al-Din and Mulla AH al-Qari'. Nasim al-riydd sharh Shifd' 

al^Qadi 'lyad, 4 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al- Arab! [no date] 
Kevseri, Mehemmet Zahit. Maqdldt al-Kawthari. Cairo: Dar al-Salam, 2007 
Al-Khattabi, Abu Sulayman Hamd. Ma'alim al-sunan. 3rd edn, 4 vols. Beirut: al- 
Maktaba al-'Ilmiyya, 1981 
Khomeini, Ayatoilah Ruhollah. Hadlth-i veldyat. Tehran: Markaz-i Chap va Nashr-i 

Sazaman-i Tablighat-i IslamI, 1999 
Al-Khwarazmi, Muhammad b. Mahmud. Jdmi' masanid al-imdm al-a'zam. Ed. Abu 

Bakr Muhammad al-Hashimi. 2nd edn, 3 vols. Hyderabad: Da'irat al-Ma'axif al- 

'Uthmaniyya, 2008 

Al-Laknawi, 'Abd al-Hayy. Tarab al-amdthil bi-tarajim al-afddil. Karachi: Qadimi 

Kutubkhane [no date] 
Mahmud, 'Abd ai-Ha^m. Fatdwd, 2 vols. Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2002 
Al-Makki, AbO Talib. Q_dt al-qulub. Cairo: Matba'at al-Anwar al-Muhammadiyya, 


Al-Maqdisi, Abu Shama. Al-Baith 'aid inkdr al-bida'. Ed. 'Uthman Ahmad 'Anbar. 

Cairo: Dar al-Huda, 1978 
Al-Marwazi, Muhammad b. ^.Ikhtilaf al-fuqaha'. Ed. Muhammad Tahir al-Hakim. 

Riyadh: Adwa' al-Salaf, 2000 
Al-Miswari, Ahmad b. Sa'd al-Din. Al-Risala al-munqidha mm al-ghiwayajt turuq at- 

riwaya. Ed. Hamud al-Ahniiml. Sanaa: Maktabat Badr, 1997 
Al-Munawi, Shams ai-DIn Abd al-Ra'uf. Fayd al-qadir sharh al-Jdmi al-saghir.m 

Hamdl al-Damardash Muhammad, 13 vols. Mecca: Maktabat Nizar Mustafa al- 

Baz 1998 

Al-Mundhiri, 'Abd al-'Aztm. AlTarghib wa'l-tarhlb. Ed. Mashhur Hasan Al Salman, 4 

vols. Riyadh: Maktabat al-Ma'arif, 2004 
Al-Musawl, 'Abdal-Husayn Sharaf al-DIn. Al-Muraja'dt. 5th edn. Tehran: Daral-Usra, 


Al-Mutl'i, Muhammad Bakhit. Majmuat rasa'il al- 'allama Muhammad Bakhit al-Muti i. 

2nd edn. Cairo: Maktabat al-Qahira, 1932 
Al-Nabhani, Yusut.Jdmi' karamdt al-awliyd'. Ed. Abd al-Warith Muhammad 'All. 2nd 

edn, 2 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 2002 


AI-NabuIsI, 'Abd al-Ghanl. Al-Hadiqa al-nadiyya shark al-Tariqa al-muhammadiyya, 

2 vols. [India]: Dar al-Hadlqa, [1860] 

. Risdla fiibdhat al-dukhan. Damascus: Matba'at al-Islah, 1924 '< 

Al-Nawawi, Muhyi al-Din Zakariyya. Minhdj al-tdtibin. Ed. Muhammad Tahir Sha'ban. 

Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2000 

. Shark Sahih Muslim, 15 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Qalam, 1987 

AI-QadI 'Iyad b. Musa. Ikmdl al-mu'lim bi-fawd'id Muslim. Ed. Yahya Ismail, 9 vols. 

Mansoura: Dar al-Wafa', 1998 

. Kitab al-Shifd bi-ta'rifhuquq al-mustafd. Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 2000 

Al-Qarr*, Mulla 'All. Mirqdt al-mafdtih. Ed. Jamal Aytanl. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al- 

'Ilmiyya, 2001 

. Sharh Shark Nukhbat al-fikar. [No place]: al-Maktaba al-Islamiyya, 1972 

AJ-Qaradawi, Yusuf. Al-Fatdwd al-shddhdha. Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2010 

. Al-Hurriyya al-diniyya wa'l-ta'addudiyya fi nazar al-islam. Beirut: a!-Maktab 

al-Islaml, 2007 

. Al-Shaykh al-Ghazdli kamd 'araftuhu. Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2000 

Al-Qudurl, Ahmad b. Muhammad. The Mukhtasar. Trans. Tahir Mahmood Kianl. 

London: Ta-Ha Publishers, 2010 
Al-Qummi, Allb. Ibrahim. Tafsir al-Qummi. Ed. Sayyid Tayyib al-MusawI al-Jaza'iri, 

2 vols. [Beirut] : Matba'at Najaf, 2009 
Al-Qurtubi, Muhammad b. Ahmad. Al-Jdmi' li-ahkdm al-Qur'dn. Ed. Muhammad 

Ibrahim al-HifnawI and Mahmud Hamid 'Uthman, 20 vols in 10. Cairo: Dar al- 

Hadith, 1994 

Al-Rafi'i, Abd al-Karim b. Muhammad. Al-Tadwln fi akhbdr Qazwin. Ed. Aziz Allah 

al-'Utaridl, 4 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'IImiyya, 1987 
Al-Ramll, Shihab al-Din Ahmad b. Hamza. Ghdyat al-ma'mul fi sharh Waraqdt al-usid. 

Cairo: Mu'assasat Qurtuba, 2005 
Rida, Rashid and Muhammad Abduh, Tafsir al-Mandr. 2nd edn, 10 vols. Beirut: Dar 

al-Ma'rifa, [1970] 

AJ-RidawI, Murtada. Ma'a rijal al-fikrfi al-Qahira, Cairo: Matba'at Hassan, 1974 
AJ-SakhawL Shams al-Din Abd al-Rahman. Al-Maqusid al-hasana. Ed. Muhammad 

'Uthman al-Khisht. Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-'Arabi, 2004 

. Al-Qawl al-badi fi al-saldt 'aid al-habib al-shafi'. Giza: Dar al-Rayyan [no date] 

. Takhrljal-Arba'inal-Sulamiyya. Ed. Ali Hasan Abd al-Hamld. Beirut: al-Maktab 

al-Islaml, 1988 

AJ-San'anl, Muhammad Ibn al-Amir. Subul al-saldm sharh Bulugh al-mardm. Ed. 
Muhammad Abd al-Rahman al-Mar'ashli. 3rd edn, 4 vols. Beirut: Dar Ihya' a-Turath 
al-'ArabJ, 2005 

Al-Saqqaf, 'Alawi bin Ahmad. Majmu'at Sab'a kutub mufida. Cairo: Mustafa al-Babi 
al-Halabi, 1940 

Al-Sarakhsl, Muhammad b. Ahmad. Al-Mabsut, 30 vols in 15. Beirut: Dar al-Ma'rifa, 

The Saudi Ministry of Justice. Mudawwanat al-Ahkam al-qada'iyya. 2nd edn. Riyadh: 

Wizarat al-'Adl, 2007 (available at http: / / ar-sa/ministry/ versions/ 

Al-Sawi, Ahmad b. Muhammad. Hdshiyat al-Sawi 'aid Tafsir al-Jaldlayn. Ed. Ali 

Muhammad al-Dabba', 4 vols in 3. Bombay: Surtis Sons, [1981] 
Al-Shafi'i, Muhammad b. Idris. Al-Risala. Ed. Ahmad Shakir. Beirut: al-Maktaba al- 

'Ilmiyya [no date] 
.Al-Umm, 7 vols. Cairo: Dar al-Sha'b, 1968 


Shah Wall Allah al-Dihlawi. Hujjat Allah al-Bdligha. Ed. Sayyid Ahmad Balanpuri, 2 

vols. Deoband: Maktabat Hijaz, 2010 
. Al-Insdffi bay an asbab al-ikhtildf. Ed. Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda. Beirut- Dar 

al-Nafais, 1983 

. Al-Irshdd ild muhimmat al-isndd. Ed. Ahmad Hasankban. [Lahore]: Matba'at 

Ahmad! [no date] 

. Al-Juz' al-latiffi tarjamat al- 'abd al-da'if Ed. Abu al-Tayyib 'Ata' Allah al-Fujyani. 

Lahore: [no publisher], 1951 

. Mandqib Muhammad b. Ismd'il al-Bukhdri wa fadilat Ibn Taymiyya. Delhi: Matba' 

Ahmad Rafi' [no date] 

. Al-Tafhimdt al-ildhiyya, 2 vols. Bijnor, India: Madina Barqi Press, 1932 

. Musqffa sharh al-Muwatta'. Delhi: Matba'at-i Faruq, 1876 

Shakir, Ahmad. Maqdlat al-'alldma al-shaykh Ahmad Muhammad Shakir. Ed. Abd 

al-Rahman al-'Aql, 2 vols. Giza: Dar al-Riyad, 2005 
Shaltut, Mahmud. Al-Isldm 'aqida wa shari'a. 18th edn. Cairo: Dar a!-Shuruq, 2001 
Al-Sha'ranl, Abd al-Wahhab. Kashf al-ghumma 'an j ami' al-umma. Cairo: Matba'at 

al-Kastiliyya, 1864 

. Al-Mizan al-kubrd, 2 vols in 1. Cairo: Maktabat Zahran [no date]. Reprint of 

1862 Cairo edn from Maktabat al-Kastiliyya 

-. Al-Tabaqdt al-kubrd; or,Lawaqih al-anwdrfi tabaqdt al- akhyar.'Ed. Sulayman 

al-Salih. Beirut: Dar al-Ma'rifa, 2005 
AJ-Shawkan'i, Muhammad b. All, 'Bulugh al-muna fi hukm al-istimna.' In al-Rasail 

al-fiqhiyya li'l-imdm al-Shawkdni, ed. Ahmad Farid al-Mazidi, 161-69. Beirut: Dar 

al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 2005 
. Nayl al-awtdr. Ed. 'Izz al-DIn Khattab, 8 vols. Beirut: Dar rhya' al-Turath al- 

'Arabi, 2001 

Shaykh Nizam, et al. Al-Fatawd al-Hindiyya; or, Fatdwd 'Alamgtri. Ed. Abd al-Latif 
Hasan Abd al-Rahman, 6 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 2001 

Al-Sirjani, Raghib. Fann al-Ta'dmul al-nabawi ma'a ghayr al-muslimin. Cairo: Aqlam, 

. Kay fa takhtdru ra'is al-jumhuriyya. 5fh edn. Cairo: Aqlam, 2011 

Al-Subkl, Taj al-Din Abd al-Wahhab. Tabaqdt al-shdfi'iyya al-kubrd. Ed. Abd al-Fattah 

Muhammad al-Halw and Mahmud Muhammad al-Tanahl. 2nd edn, 10 vols in 6. 

Cairo: Hujr, 1992 

Al-Suhay!l, Abu al-Q.asim Abd al-Rahman. Al-Rawd al-unuf. Ed. MajdlFaysalal-Shura, 

4 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Umiyya, 1997 
Al-SuhrawardI, Abu Hafs 'Umar. Awdrif al-maarif. Ed. 'Abd al-Halim Mahmud and 

Mahmud al-Sharaf. Cairo: al-Iman, 2005 . 
Al-Suyuti, Jalal al-DIn. Abwab al-saadafi asbdb aVshahada. Ed. Mustafa Abd al-Qadir 

Ata. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 1987 
. Badhl al-majhud li-khizdnat Mahmud. MS 334547, Al-Azhar Library (available 

at www.alazharonline.orgl 
. Al-Bdhirfi hukmihi salld Allah 'alayhi wa sallam bi'l-bdtin wa l-zahir. Cairo: 

Maktabat al-Qahira, [1999] 
. Al-Durr al-manthur fi al-tafsir bi'l-mathur, 6 vols. Cairo: Matba at al-Anwar 

al-Muhammadiyya, 1990 . , 

. Al-Itqdnfi 'ulum al-Qur'dn. Ed. pha Abd al-Ra'uf Sa'd, 4 vols in 2. Cairo: ai- 

Maktaba al-Tawfiqiyya [no date] 

-. Al-Jdmi' al-saghir fi ahddith al-Vashir al-nadhir. 2nd edn. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub 

al-'Ilmiyya, 2004 


. Al-Khasa'is al-kubra, 2 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-'Arabi [no date]. Reprint of 

1902 Hyderabad edn from Da'irat al-Ma'arif al-'Uthmaniyya 
.Al-La'alial-masnuafial-ahddith al-mawdu'a. Ed. Salah Muhammad al-'Uwaydak 

3 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 1996 
Al-Tabarani, Abu al-Qasim Sulayman. Al-Mujam al-kabir. Ed. Hamdl 'Abd al-Majld 

al-Salafi, 25 vols. Beirut: Dar Ihya' al-Turath al-'Arabi [no date] 
Al-Tabari, Muhammad b. Jara.Jami' al-bayan 'an ta'wil ay al-Qur'an, 30 vols. Beirut - 

Dar al-Fikr, 1985 

. Tarikh al-Tabari, 6 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 2003 

Al-Tahawi, Abu Ja'far Ahmad. SharhMushkil al-Athar. Ed. Shu'ayb al-Arna'ut, 15 vols. 

Beirut: Mu'assasat al-Risala, 1987 
Al-Tantawi, All Dhikmydt, 6 vols. Jeddah: Dar al-Manara, 1985-86 

. Fatawa. Ed. Mujahid Dayraniyya. Jeddah: Dar al-Manara, 1985 

Al-Tukla, Muhammad Ziyad, ed. Majmu'fikashfhaqiqat al-juz' al-mafqud al-maz'um 

min MusannafAbd al-Razzaq. Riyadh: Dar al-Muhaddith, 2007 
Al-Wadi'I, Muqbil bin HMl.Majmu' fatawa al-Wadi'i. Ed. Sadiq Muhammad al-Baydanl. 

[No place, no publisher] 2005 
Al-ZabTdi, Murtada Muhammad. Ithafal-sada al-muttaqln bi-sharh Ihya' 'ulum al-din, 

10 vols. Beirut: Mu'assasat al-Tarlkh al-'Arabi, 1994 
Al-Zamakhshari, Mahmud b. "Umar. Al-Kashshaf. Ed. 'Abd al-Razzaq Mahdi. Beirut: 

Dar Ihya' al-Turath al- Arabi, 200 1 
Al-Zanjani, Shihab al-DIn. Takhrij al-furu' 'ala al-usul. Ed. Muhammad Adib Salih. 

Riyadh: Maktabat 'Ubaykan, 1999 
Zarkashi, Badr al-Din Muhammad. Al-Bahr al-muhit ft usul al-fiqh. Ed. Muhammad 

Muhammad Tamir, 4 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 2007 
Al-Zayla'i, Jamil al-DIn. Nasb al-raya takhrij ahadlth al-Hidaya. Ed. Muhammad Yusuf 

al-Banuri, 4 vols. Cairo: Dar al-Hadith, 1939 
Zuhdl, Karam; NSjih Ibrahim, et al. Hurmat al-ghuluw ft al-din wa takfir al-muslimin. 

Riyadh: Maktabat al-'Ubaykan, 2004 
Al-ZurqanI, Muhammad b. Abd al-Baql. Mukhtasar al-Maqasid al-hasana. Ed. 

Muhammad Lutfi al-Sabbagh. Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1989 
. Shark al-Muwatta'. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 1991 


Abbasid Caliphate 22, 28; and religious 

debate 47 
Abd al-Rahman, Aisha 139 
Abdallah bin Mas 'ud 25, 107 
Abduh, Muhammad (d. 1905) 111, 

118-19, 122, 135,149, 159,279; 

on polygamy 146, 149-50; on 

weak Hadith 254 
Abelard, Peter (d. 1142) 166 
Ablutions 25 

Abou El Fadl, Khaled 277-78 
Abraham 75, 247; and Isaac 262, 286 
Abrogation (Naskh) 98-102 
Abu Bakr (d. 634) 20, 96, 291-92 
Abu Dharr Ghifari 58 
Abu Ghudda, Abd al-Fattah (d. 1997) 

Abu Hanifa (d. 767) 25-28, 35, 104; on 

woman's right to choose spouse 

Abu Hurayra (d. 678) 245 
Abu Rayya, Mahmud (d. 1970) 70, 

Abu Sulayman, Abd al-Hamid 271, 


Abu Thawr (d. 854) 192-93 
Abu Yusuf (d. 798) 35, 49 
Abu Zahra, Muhammad (d. 1974) 

Abu Zayd, Nasr Hamid (d. 2010), 
accusation of apostasy 120; 
postmodernist reading of the 
Quran 202-3, 206; on Shariah and 

tradition 210-11; contempt for 

ulama 213 
Achilles 240 
Ada, see Custom 
Adultery, see Fornication 
Aeneid 73, 221,240 
Ahi al-Ra'y (Partisans of Reason) 


Ahl al-Sunna wa'l-Jama'a, see Sunni 

Ahl-e Quran, see Quran-Only 

Aisha 95, 131, 140, 146, 192, 198, 208; 

marriage age of 142-43, 147-48, 

156, 291-93, 316 n. 50 
AK party 158 
Akiva, Rabbi (d. 135) 19 
Al-Qaeda 125, 209 
Albani, Muhammad Nasir al-Din (d. 

1999) 129-30, 194 
Aleppo 143 

Ali bin Abi Talib (d. 661) 20, 23, 82, 
108, 208, 219; on interpreting 
Quran 84; as gate to prophetic 
knowledge 58; authority in Shiism 
170-72; marriage to Fatima 157 

Ali, Ayaan Hirsi 209 

Ali, Mehmet 145 

Alwani, Taha Jabir 147 n 

Amm, see General 

Anabaptist Kingdom of Miinster 162 

Analogical Reasoning 26-27, 38, 44, 45 

Anas bin Malik (d. 711) 23 

350 [ INDEX 

Angels, 246; angei of death and Moses 

Anglo-Muhammadan Law 11 
AnselmofBec (d. 1109) 113, 166 
Anthropomorphism 63; see also 

Antichrist 31 On. 60 
Apocrypha 7 

Apostasy, declaring Muslims apostates 
66-67, 90, 129; execution for 51; 
Hadiths on 67; of political regimes 
125; reinterpreting Shariah stance 
on 186-88 

Apostles 164-65; Apostolic Succession 

'Aqqad, Abbas (d. 1964) 146-48, 159 

Aquinas, St. Thomas (d. 1274) 12, 112 

Arabian Peninsula, expulsion of non- 
Muslims from 126-27, Figure 9 

Arabic Language Academy 112, 119 


Arendt, Hannah 21 1 

Aristode 31, 33, 56, 219-20, 230; 

Golden Mean of 243; on types of 
proof 223; on history 234 

Art 111 

Asbab al-nuzul, see Context of 

Revelation; Quran 
Ash'ari, Abu Hasan (d. 935) 53, 100, 


Ash'ari school of theology S3 ff., 62-64 

Asma' bint Yazid 198 

Assassins, Ismaili 172, 174 

Ata' bin Abi Rabah (d. 732) 275 

Attas, Sayyid Naquib 218, 220 

Auda, Salman 129 

Augustine (d. 430) 56, 75, 82; and 
custom 175; on lying 248; on 
science and scripture 289 

Aurangzeb (d. 1707) 153, 317 n. 71 

Authenticity 85, 100 

Averroes, see Ibn Rushd 

Avicenna, see Ibn Sina 

Awda, Salman 167 

Awliya', as 'friends' vs. 'allies' in Quran 

210; see also Saints 
'Awra (Nudity) 192 
Awza'i, 'Abd al-Rahman (d. 774) 35, 

48, 104, 124 
Ayat, see Signs 

Azhar Mosque / University 3, 112, 


Ba'alawi Sufi order 263-66 
Bacon, Francis (d. 1626) 250 
Baghdad 22, 28 
Baraka, see Blessing 
Battar, Khadija 258 
Bayhaqi, Abu Bakr Ahmad (d. 1066) 

Bayle, Pierre (d. 1706) 11 
Bible 7, criticism of 73, 77, 116-17, 
233-34; early criticism of 
176; criticism by Quakers 
162; early interpretation of 
164-65; figurative reading of 
1 16; interpretation in accord 
with reason & science 72, 
75-76; Protestant reading of 
162; Hebrew language and 204; 
teaching of 166 
Bid'a (Heresy) 63 
Bin Laden, Osama 123-26, 237-38 
Birgili, MehmetPir Ali (d. 1573) 168 
Biruni, Abu Rayhan (d. 1048) 31 
Bistami, Bayazid (d. 874) 61 
Blessing {Baraka) 59, 167, 217, 265 
Blocking the Means (Sadd al-Dhara'f)